BBC3 can still nurture new TV comedy talent following its move online, according to the pubcaster’s controller of comedy commissioning and leading producers.
Youth-skewing BBC3 moved online last February despite a campaign from leading UK comedy producers Avalon and Hat Trick to take it over and continue running it as a linear network. Known as an important proving ground for new comedy, the channel spawned Cuckoo, Monkey Dust, Little Britain and The Mighty Boosh, among many others, and fears were expressed that the move online would place this under threat.
Last week commissioners and producers stated that British television was failing new comedy talent, with UKTV commissioning editor Iain Coyle saying BBC3’s switch online was harmful to up-and-coming longform TV comedy in particular.
But Belfast born BBC controller of comedy commissioning Shane Allen has hit back at the critics saying that BBC3 is succeeding in its new form.
“It’s free of overnights and schedule restrictions. We’ve commissioned a new 6×15′ series with new talent where half-hours may have been a bit of stretch,” Allen said.
There’s the safety net of the repeats on BBC1 and BBC2, where Josh and Witless have been attracting 1.3 million to 1.4 million viewers. The hard thing is bringing the industry with us a bit.
We’re still committed to comedy, still committed to getting the audience.
“Young audiences are migrating away from traditional TV – at least we’re doing something that can be a pathfinder for how we find younger audiences tomorrow.
It’s not perfect; it’s a journey of discovery. But in terms of shows we’ve had on air, Fleabag is as good as anything we’ve had on BBC3 and the audiences are still coming to it.”
Maartje Horchner, head of acquisitions at All3Media International, said Fleabag, which is produced by Two Brothers Pictures and shopped by All3, shows the channel’s new model can work.
“Fleabag started as a monologue comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe. The moment it started to become a TV idea, the BBC was involved and has been very supportive in the process. It’s hard to make a monologue into a TV series,” Horchner said. ‘BBC3 did some big drama in the past. Perhaps those kinds of budgets might not be there now it’s online, but we’ve definitely noticed the support from BBC3 for comedy.”
The channel has also been making waves with People Just Do Nothing, produced by Roughcut Television and now in its 4th season having initially started as a YouTube sketch.
Roughcut producer Jon Petrie said BBC3’s online presence can help fledgling comedies that were originally discovered online themselves – an increasingly rich seam for producers and talent spotters to mine for future comic talent.
“It started out as a comedy feed, then the pilot was online-only but was the most shared show on iPlayer that month,” Petrie said. “We got a pilot, then a four-part series, which would be unusual on linear, then a five-part second season and now it’s six episodes and a more traditional process. Because the show started online, it’s not alien for us to be on BBC3 and it’s brought a lot of its YouTube following across. It’s still being shown on TV, repeated on BBC2, as is Fleabag and there is a lot of excitement about both series. It’s the way things are going. It’s early days but there are some quite exciting things coming out of BBC3.
There is not a huge number of places to take a risk with new talent so it’s about making sure the budgets stay there and they can carry on doing it.”
Credit – c21 Media