BBC America Boosts Lineup

Jan 2, 2006  •  Post A Comment

BBC America has ordered two new BBC co-productions, “Waterloo Road” and “Shakespeare Retold,” to bolster its current lineup until it can get a stateside development team in place later this year.

“Waterloo” is described as “the anti-‘Boston Public,'” a look at the relationships between jaded teachers and students at a downtrodden British school. The series consists of six one-hour episodes from the creative team behind “Footballers Wive$.”

“Shakespeare Retold” (working title) includes four 90-minute modernized adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays using young actors in contemporary settings. “Much Ado About Nothing,” for example, is set at a TV news studio; “Macbeth” is set in a fancy restaurant. The series came about after the success of the network’s series last year that put a modern twist on the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. The network is also considering a series taking the same approach with fairy tales.

The Discovery-distributed channel just completed a successful quarter, up 25 percent among total viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research, and touting a best miniseries Golden Globes nomination for its crime/romance/musical “Viva Blackpool.”

But the network has experienced growing pains as well. Breakout hits “The Office” and “Coupling” brought viewers to the network, but the remake rights were sold and the concepts reworked by NBC, to varying success. Popular talk show “So Graham Norton” was another ratings draw, then Comedy Central signed Mr. Norton for a stateside version and Logo snatched up the rights to the “So Graham” back catalog. And when “The Office” creator/star Ricky Gervais made the new BBC series “Extras,” HBO outbid BBC America for domestic distribution rights.

Blessed with more good taste than financial ownership participation, BBC America announced plans last year to develop original series. No timeline or projects have been announced, but General Manager Kathryn Mitchell said she hopes to establish a stateside development team within six months. “I’d like to do a drama, a [lifestyle series] and a comedy this year,” she said.

The new projects will be produced domestically, but will also air in the United Kingdom. The BBC would help fund the new projects, but-unlike the network’s current content-BBC America will have a controlling ownership.

The programs will give BBC America a chance to select subject matter and actors with strong American appeal. But how closely should the network’s U.S. material stick to its British brand?

“I don’t think we will put constraints on the creativity,” Ms. Mitchell said. “You cannot predict this stuff. I’ll only know if it’s right when the script crosses my door.”

BBC America’s biggest current draws are Mystery Monday programming and the series “Footballers Wive$,” which it has positioned as a British “Desperate Housewives” and has scheduled right after the ABC hit. Ms. Mitchell said the network’s scheduling strategy is typically less concerned with the competition.

“We look out for the big set pieces-Lifetime’s ‘Human Trafficking,’ Sci Fi’s ‘The Triangle,’ ‘Desperate Housewives,'” she said. “But it’s not like I’m about to put on any stories about airplane crash survivors at 9 p.m. on Wednesdays.”

Later this month, BBC America plans to choose a slate of programming from Granada International, with which the network signed a multimillion-dollar deal in September to acquire 160 hours of dramatic programming. Each program will have a three-year window on the network.