ITV pacts with C-W for sitcom

Net seals Bond with Lion

LONDON — After borrowing a few comedy concepts from the Brits, the Carsey-Werner Co. is reaching across the pond to give something back. The premier indie provider of Stateside sitcom fare has inked a major 22-seg sitcom deal with Britain’s ITV network.

Separately, ITV confirmed that it has sealed a major pact with MGM for the exclusive U.K. television rights to the James Bond franchise, including the upcoming still-untitled 19th installment.

Carsey-Werner was expected to confirm today that the company will produce a U.K. version of its new Fox comedy “That ’70s Show,” which takes a comically jaundiced view of the “me” decade. However, individuals cautioned that the specific show to be adapted had not been nailed down, and that the partners may yet opt to develop a wholly original concept.

Details of the pact were sketchy, but it’s understood the agreement between C-W and ITV is much more than a sale of format rights; Carsey-Werner execs are expected to be closely involved in the development and production of the series.

London base

The company recently opened a London office, primarily to facilitate international sales. But expanding into the Euro TV market by franchising its U.S. successes would be a natural area of growth for the indie headed by prodigious producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner. C-W prexy Caryn Mandabach also has been intimately involved in the ITV negotiations.

In 1996, Carsey-Werner adapted the Brit-com “One Foot in the Grave” for the premise of its current Bill Cosby starrer, “Cosby,” on CBS. C-W also borrowed the title and concept of the U.K.’s “Men Behaving Badly” for a sitcom that ran for two seasons on NBC.

For ITV, the Carsey-Werner deal is a radical initiative by ITV to import American comedy techniques in an attempt to solve its persistent failure to produce successful sitcoms.

British sitcoms are traditionally produced in small batches of six or nine episodes at a time, which means they often take several seasons to hook an audience. But ITV is looking for much quicker results with a U.S.-style 22-show order.

Bonding

Execs at the top-rated ITV web also were crowing about their Bond pic coup. The deal marks the first time since the advent nine years ago of satcaster British Sky Broadcasting that a new Bond movie has bypassed the pay TV window and gone directly to a terrestrial web for its U.K. television premiere.

The Bond movies are traditionally the highest-rated feature films on British television, often screened in peak viewing hours on Christmas Day. ITV is planning a season with every Bond film ever made as part of its 1999 lineup.

The two American deals were unveiled by ITV’s new director of programs David Liddiment at a presentation of the web’s 1999 programming plans for advertisers.

Liddiment and ITV chief exec Richard Eyre, both of whom arrived last fall, are attempting to lead a creative and marketing revolution of the web to reverse its long-term ratings decline since the arrival of satellite TV.

Also in the works

Liddiment also announced an adaptation by Alan Bleasdale of the Charles Dickens novel “Oliver Twist” for British programming.

At the same time, ITV unveiled its new branding, based around the image of a heart, illustrating the web’s new motto “TV From the Heart.”

“From now on, the heart will become the symbol of ITV in the same way that the BBC has its globe, Sky has its satellite dish and NBC has its peacock,” said ITV’s marketing and commercial director, John Hardie.

“ITV’s strength has always been its programming. By contrast, in branding terms it has never really had a clearly defined identity as a channel. Given the current onslaught of new channels, that’s something we had to put right,” he said.

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