Brits go Hollywood

BBC, Granada to rework hits for U.S. TV

In a deal that is likely to boost the trans-Atlantic format biz, Britain’s leading broadcasters Granada and the BBC are joining forces to develop and place sitcoms and dramas on U.S. television.

An entity called GB Prods. will be formed to pitch and place U.S. versions of scripted comedy and drama series inspired by U.K. originals.

Deal will range from classic shows in each broadcaster’s catalog to projects in development for each of the partners. The BBC boasts the largest TV programming library outside the U.S., and Granada is ranked second behind the BBC in the U.K.

The new venture will be headed by Scott Siegler, who is also president of Granada’s existing operation in L.A., Granada Entertainment USA.

The move is another example of the growing collaboration between key players across Europe as they try to compete more effectively on a global scale. It is unusual, however, in that it is still rare for a Euro pubcaster such as the BBC to partner with one of its commercial rivals.

Helping to bring the two broadcasters together was the William Morris Agency, which reps them both Stateside. WMA vice chairman Jerry Katzman, who was instrumental in putting the deal together, told Daily Variety that British shows these days are very “out there” — and that potentially translates very well to U.S. television. WMA will represent the venture for network productions.

GB Prods. will exclusively manage and produce the BBC and Granada Media’s drama and comedy formats in the U.S.

Past and present

While the BBC over the years has had intermittent success with translation into U.S. formats — “Cosby,” for example, was modeled on the Beeb’s “One Foot in the Grave” — it is Granada that has recently re-energized the format traffic.

Under Siegler, the Granada outpost came up with a U.S. version of “Cracker” for ABC and, most recently, with “Cold Feet,” a format that will debut on NBC this fall. An original series called “Beggars and Choosers” is up and running on Showtime, while the TV movie “Dash and Lilly” has been nominated for several Emmys.

“I think this partnership is another example of what’s going on in the media biz generally as things consolidate,” Siegler told Daily Variety. “There’s now a fairly energetic exchange these days on the format front, and British material is benefiting. These British shows are extremely character-rich, and they often push the envelope.”

Staffing

Although no financial details of the joint venture were available Tuesday, it is likely that Siegler’s team will grow in the U.S. to handle the sizable increase in material to sort through. The BBC will appoint one or two point people in the U.K. to analyze the Beeb’s back catalog and keep up to date on projects that might be potential formats.

“The goal of our joint arrangement,” Siegler said, “is to provide better deals for British creators and to create one-stop shopping for the American broadcasters.”

Up until now, most attempts at trans-Atlantic formats have been undertaken by individual indie producers on both sides of the Atlantic, but this new deal effectively locks up a vast portion of British material into GB’s vault.

Jules Burns and Andrea Wonfor, joint managing directors of Granada Prods., said: “This new arrangement will allow Scott and his team to access a far wider range of talent and formats. It also allows us to strengthen the company, bringing in further experienced executives.”

Managing it

BBC Worldwide and BBC Prods., key London-based units of the pubcaster, will create a partnership to manage the new relationship with Granada. The initiative will be led by Mike Philips, director of international TV for BBC Worldwide, and Chris Pye, controller of commercial and business affairs for BBC Prods.

The BBC boasts a well-established distribution and co-production business in the U.S. and solid relationships with broadcasters including A&E and PBS and more recently Discovery Communications.

These businesses as well as the recently launched BBC America cable venture do not come within the scope of the deal with Granada and will continue to be handled by BBC Worldwide Americas.

As for foreign rights to any shows that come out of the arrangement Stateside, it is likely that BBC-originated formats will be sold globally by BBC Worldwide and that Granada-originated concepts will be handled by Granada Intl.

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