JJ Feild and Felicity Jones in Northanger Abbey courtesy ITV Plc for Masterpiece JJ Feild and Felicity Jones in Northanger Abbey courtesy ITV Plc for Masterpiece
The when: Sunday, Jan. 13, through Sunday, April 6, airing at 9 pm/ET; check local listings.

Why watch?: For the first time in U.S. television history,

Masterpiece Theatre is airing back-to-back adaptations of all six of Jane Austen's gloriously adaptable-to-the-screen novels, plus a new biopic entitled Miss Austen Regrets. To the uninitiated, Austen's books may seem like so much 19th-century chick lit, but don't be fooled: These deliciously spicy stories have more than their share of sniping satire and smoking sexual tension. Austen's characters are no shrinking period-piece violets - you'll meet some seriously sassy lasses with some very sharp tongues. (And heck, as an accidental side effect, afterwards you can impress your friends with your newfound knowledge of 19th-century inheritance law and dating practices.) Of course, that's not to say there's no bodice-ripping at all - indeed, on Feb. 10, the fan favorite of all Pride and Prejudice adaptations will air the first of its three parts. That's right, the one with the famous Colin Firth-in-a-river-in-a-wet-shirt scene. Ain't it great how Masterpiece Theatre can simultaneously educate and titillate? It's almost wrong to air it on a Sunday. Who's who: Wait, is this still PBS? In each of these Austen installments you'll find famous faces already seen on network and cable TV, like Buffy's Anthony Head, Meadowlands' Felicity Jones and David Morrissey, and Doctor Who's Billie Piper, not to mention big-screen names like Greta Scacchi, Kate Beckinsale, Samantha Morton and the above-mentioned Colin Firth as the unforgettable Mr Darcy. Old-guard Masterpiece fans will also recognize Rupert Penry-Jones, J.J. Feild and Mark Strong. What's next: Four of these six installments are brand-new versions, never before aired in the U.S. The even better news is that they were all adapted by master of Masterpiece Andrew Davies, the writer behind 2005's award-winning Bleak House. The first, which premiered last week but is airing throughout the month (check your local listings) was Persuasion. Next up (this Sunday) is Northanger Abbey, followed on Jan. 27 by Mansfield Park, on Feb. 3 by Miss Austen Regrets and, from Feb. 10 through 24, Pride and Prejudice. Kate Beckinsale's turn as Emma airs March 23, and the series closes out with a new Sense and Sensibility on March 30 and April 6. Say what?!: This marks a watershed year for MT as the series looks to expand its audience by splitting its season into three parts, Masterpiece Classic in the spring, Masterpiece Mystery! in the summer and Masterpiece Contemporary in the fall. Each section will have its own host ( Bleak House's Gillian Anderson hosts Classic) and will sport a new theme song and a new look-and-feel (goodbye to the beloved library look of old). What do you say? After 37 years on the air, Masterpiece Theatre is the longest-running prime-time drama in television history. Does it live up to its historic hype, or should the powers-of-public-television put this book horse down? Should MT continue to re-adapt old classics in new, modernized ways, or should it turn its literary eye to newer, more contemporary masterpieces? Masterpiece maestros, speak out! - Michelle Heller (who also writes about Masterpiece in her Heller Hath No Fury blog) More Strike Survival guidance: " Why USA's Quirky Monk Will Lighten Your Mood " What Emily in Marketing Is Watching " Movies-on-TV: Ken Fox's Picks for the Week of Jan. 14 " Knight Rider, Grammys and More Specials to Watch For " Your Guide to January Premieres