Post-Globes, BBC America Ramping Up

Mar 22, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Still riding high from its surprise two-fisted victory at the Golden Globes, BBC America is reformatting its schedule to include theme nights and has ordered four new projects to help maintain its momentum.
In the coming months, the network will rearrange its schedule to better package its content on certain nights. Wednesday will feature broad comedies such as the new show “My Family,” starring Robert Lindsay and Zoe Wannamaker, and “My Hero,” with Ardal O’Hanlon. “The Office” will anchor Thursdays, which will be devoted to satirical comedies. Fridays will have a what BBC America CEO Paul Lee calls a “cool retro block.”
“What we’re saying, as boldly as we can, is that you will be watching as much money on the screen on BBC America as on FX or Showtime,” Mr. Lee said.
Globes Opened Doors
This year’s Golden Globes, where the “The Office” won for best comedy series and best comedy actor, was a turning point for the 6-year-old network, which had grown accustomed to flying under the mainstream radar.
“If you build a business like this, there are a number of gear changes, but none were so major as winning the Golden Globes,” Mr. Lee said. “It’s had a serious impact on our ad sales, and helped our affiliates.”
Since the Golden Globes, Lipton Tea and Coca-Cola have come on board as new advertisers on the network, which is currently available in about 38 million U.S. homes through digital cable systems and satellite.
The new projects BBC America has signed up for-a limited series, a telefilm and two miniseries-are BBC America co-productions with BBC Drama, and all hold true to the BBC brand. They will air first on the BBC in the United Kingdom. They are:
* “The Long Firm”: A four-part limited series about the London Mob in the ’50s and ’60s. The production is based on the Jake Arnott book of the same title and is expected to air in March 2005.
* “Messiah”: A miniseries that stars Ken Stott as a detective tracking a serial killer. It already premiered in the United Kingdom, where reviewers heralded it as the British answer to David Fincher’s “Seven.” On BBC America, it is planned for first quarter of next year.
* “Byron”: A miniseries chronicling the rise and fall of the romantic poet Lord Byron and starring Jonny Lee Miller (“Trainspotting”) and Vanessa Redgrave. Planned for summer 2005 on BBC America.
* “The Young Visiters”: Based on a story written by 9-year-old Daisy Ashford in 1919, this BBC co-produced movie stars Oscar-winner Jim Broadbent and is slated for December.
One previously announced new comedy acquisition, “Trailer Park Boys,” already is generating some buzz as a potential breakout hit. The show has, however, one hitch in regard to network branding: It’s from Canada.
“Well, isn’t Canada a part of England?” Mr. Lee joked. “We feel we can allow ourselves the fun of having that show. It creates a mad world that you can’t believe you’re witnessing, but you strangely want to go back to and be a part of.”
If the show is a success, one of the surest signs may well be U.S. versions of it popping up on other networks. TLC already remade “Changing Rooms” as “Trading Spaces.” Fox remade “Kumars at No. 42” as “The Ortegas,” which has not made it to air. NBC remade “Coupling,” which was canceled shortly after it premiered.
`Coupling’ Ambivalence
Mr. Lee said he has mixed feelings about the failure of the NBC version of “Coupling.”
“We always loved our version and to some degree had it been a big hit on NBC that would have been great for us,” he said. “On the other hand, it doesn’t hurt to have everybody writing an article saying ours is so much better.”
As for NBC’s planned remake of “The Office,” Mr. Lee is skeptical. “I can tell you right now nothing will touch the original because it’s so perfect.”
Perhaps someday BBC America will have enough presence that a hit on the network is a hit across the board and pointless to remake. The network is stepping up plans to broaden its successful “I’m a BBC American” campaign and feature more Americans on the channel.
Until then Mr. Lee is content with the net’s underdog status.
“It was funny-at the Golden Globes everybody was there with their perfect noses and great skin, and there we were-this motley band of Brits,” Mr. Lee said. “They had to zoom out.”