They’ll Take ‘Manhattan’: Brits Buy NYC Cable Clips

Brits may tire of “Twin Peaks” or doze off during “Dallas,” but the latest American tv export has them chirping for Robin Byrd.

Byrd, the tv stripper who sheds her feathers on Manhattan Cable’s Channel 35, is just one part of a new show on Britain’s Channel 4 featuring the raunchiest clips from Manhattan’s public access programs.

Government-mandated public access channels, unheard of in the U.K., allow unabashed amateurs to produce low-rent local tv programs. On Gotham’s latenight shows, almost anything goes – and now it’s going to Blighty. Although many of the segments are far too racy for mainstream American tv, they’re now being broadcast into homes across Britain.

The 45-minute program, called “Manhattan,” may be the most parsimonious international co-production in history. Produced jointly by U.K.-based Panoptic and New York’s World of Wonder, the show, which collects a licensing fee from Channel 4, pays only nominal fees to producers of the amateur clips – who are happy to get anything at all.

“Manhattan” also features its own roving reportage, including Beta-cam segments on a Brooklyn service that freeze-dries dead pets for display, and a demonstration of the Heimlich maneuver by former New York mayor Ed Koch – who once received the lifesaving embrace in a restaurant.

Channel 4 has ordered eight episodes, each of which uses about a dozen clips, to air Wednesday nights at 11.

The first episode debuted last week, and it’s still anybody’s guess if clips from N.Y.C. shows like “The Gay Dating Game” will be England’s cup of tea.

“The concept of public access television is completely alien to English people,” notes Fenton Bailey, the Gotham-based Brit who’s co-producing “Manhattan.” “In England, it’s assumed that tv is produced by people who went to Oxford.”

Bailey, who went to New York U. film school, came up with the show’s idea with his American partner, Randy Barbado. “There have been shows in England before featuring weird American tv,” acknowledges 30-year-old Bailey, “but they were always in the context of ‘Isn’t this dreadful?’ Our show makes no judgments.”

Instead, a crawl offers a brief description of each clip. A show called “The Urgent Message From Bayside” comes with the note: “A Queen’s [sic] housewife transmits messages from the Virgin Mary.”

In one of the show’s own segments, reporter Bill Judkins tallies the top 10 brand names in Bret Easton Ellis’ controversial novel, “American Psycho” (Ralph Lauren is No. 1) – and then grills Ellis on the plugola during an interview.

Bailey figures his countrymen will get a kick out of what he calls “American exhibitionism.” After a hard night of watching the BBC’s “Silas Marner,” typically reserved Brits can switch to “Manhattan” and watch clips from “Voy-eur Vision,” in which barely clad Lynn Muscarella performs (solo) sexual fantasies called in by her loyal viewers.

Other segments come from “Tend To Offend,” a series of lewd comic sketches that would make Benny Hill blush.

Bailey says the rock-bottom production values don’t detract from “Manhattan’s” basic appeal – “seeing what ordinary people will do when they have access to television.” Arid besides, he says, the show is “quite sexy, really.”

Jeremy Coopman in London contributed to this report.

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