U.K. yuks shoot from hip

HBO Independent Prods., the Los Angeles-based comedy specialist, is setting up shop as a producer for British TV webs.

In the past month, HIP prez Chris Albrecht has met with all the major U.K. broadcasters and a number of local programmakers to discuss bringing the company’s comedy production expertise to British soil.

Albrecht is finalizing deals with American writers and performers eager to try their hand at creating shows for the U.K. market. He plans to send them to Britain for a few weeks to spark ideas with local talent.

U.S. sales potential

His idea is to develop projects specifically for the BBC, ITV or Channel 4, “while keeping an eye on the fact that we would like to sell them back here in the States.” Although the bulk of the production budget would come from a U.K. network, HIP is also looking for perhaps one other Euro pre-sale.

To achieve the necessary international appeal, the shows will be set in a “third arena: not an American household and not a British household,” Albrecht said. Possibilities include outer space, the Foreign Legion or some historical setting. He favors using a single camera, “because it lends to physical comedy, rather than the conventional domestic sitcom, which is more a comedy of manners.”

But it is not just a creative one-way street. BBC1 controller Alan Yentob has already asked HIP to look at one of his development projects to see if they can produce it together.

HIP will also bring a U.S.-style “show runner” to Britain to manage the projects creatively. It has signed Steve Bawall, an American writer-producer whose credits include “The Street,” and who is performing a similar role in Paris for French production house Teleimages on its new 65-episode comedy “L’Annex.”

Independently from HIP, Bawall is working with U.K. producer Channel X (which itself has a development deal with HBO) to develop an English version of his recent CBS comedy “Wish You Were Here.” It will be titled “One for the Road” and screen on Channel 4.

Albrecht sees Britain, and by extension Europe, as the next frontier for U.S. producers who are reaching the limits of their expansion in the domestic market.

“I believe that the business we’re all doing in the United States — selling to the networks and trying to make money in syndication — is way past its prime and probably coming to a close,” he said.

Breaking ground

HIP was created three years ago to break new ground by producing shows for basic cable and the major networks, rather than for HBO itself. Its shows include “Martin,””Roc,””Down the Shore” and the upcoming Richard Lewis-Don Rickles sitcom “Daddy Dearest,” all for Fox Broadcasting Co.

Albrecht describes his British adventure as a natural extension of that pioneering spirit.

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