‘Closet’-ed bidding

Channel 4, ITV battle for Alley sitcom

LONDON — A bidding war has broken out between two of Blighty’s terrestrial networks to clinch rights to the new Kirstie Alley sitcom, “Veronica’s Closet,” confirming the show as one of the few hot properties at this year’s L.A. Screenings.

As British TV buyers returned to their offices after viewing a total of 54 shows in Hollywood during the screenings, ITV and Channel 4 were both hoping to close a deal for the comedy set in a lingerie company.

However, ITV’s head of acquisitions Jeff Ford warned that he wasn’t prepared to “break the bank” for the series. “It’s a good show but it’s not a ‘Millennium,’ ‘ER’ or ‘Murder One,’ ” he said.

Yet the fact that ITV, anxious to win back audiences from satellite and cable stations, is interested in an American sitcom marks something of a departure for the net, which hasn’t gone out of its way to showcase Yank comedy in recent years.

In Blighty, Channel 4, whose new CEO Michael Jackson takes over next month, is the natural home of U.S. humor. Over the years the web has turned such fare as “The Cosby Show” and, more recently, “Friends” and “Frasier” into cult hits in the U.K.

Stuart Cosgrove, C4’s head of arts and entertainment, said that the Kirstie Alley comedy “has all the makings of a surefire hit.”

After the excitement of the last two years, when British enthusiasm for one-hour dramas saw prices rocket for “Murder One” and “Millennium,” the feeling in London this week was that a lot of shows that sounded good on paper failed to live up to expectations in the screening room.

“It wasn’t a brilliant year. There was nothing outstanding,” said Mairi MacDonald, C4’s head of purchased programs. “The U.S. networks are playing safe. Overall the drama wasn’t adventurous enough. I came away with the impression that the talent pool is being really stretched.”

Despite her disappointment, MacDonald had firmed up two deals by Tuesday. These were for Fox’s “King of the Hill” and legal drama “Ally McBeal.”

Overall there was disappointment with Steve Bochco’s latest cop show, “Brooklyn South,” described by one broadcaster as “Bochco by numbers.”

But the British Broadcasting Corp. bought the series for terrestrial screening. Satcaster BSkyB is expected to premiere “Brooklyn South” in the U.K. in yet another example of the BBC allowing Sky to screen a show before the pubcaster does.

Another confirmed U.K. purchase is Fox’s “The Visitor,” produced by Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin, the duo behind “Independence Day,” was bought by ITV.

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