WWII skein dropped from BBC1's sked, lands at BBC2
LONDON — Steven Spielberg’s World War II TV series “Band of Brothers” has been dropped from BBC1’s primetime fall sked — even though the pubcaster is reckoned to have coughed up a record £7 million ($10 million) for the skein.Execs fear “Brothers” is not mainstream enough and have bumped it to sister channel BBC2, which gets audiences less than half the size of those for the BBC’s flagship channel. The move, another sign of the BBC’s desire to maximize ratings, will raise further questions about why the pubcaster spent so much to acquire the 10-part series, eclipsing the £6 million it paid to license the movie “Titanic.” A summer spat blew up in the British press after local war veterans, already irked about Hollywood rewriting war history, claimed the storyline gives the impression that Americans won the war by themselves. The 10-part skein tells the story of Easy Company, part of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, showing the G.I.s playing key parts in the D-Day landings, the Battle of the Bulge and the capture of Hitler’s Bavarian fortress at Berchtesgaden. Pic filmed in U.K. Ironically, the production was filmed in Hertfordshire on the “Saving Private Ryan” set and stars little-known Brit thesp Damien Lewis as an American captain. Critics also claim Prime Minister Tony Blair changed the tax laws to make it easier for foreign films to be classified as British, to lure HBO to film in the U.K. Reg means the company is eligible for tax breaks that allow it to write off production costs over three years. Other critics have said the pubcaster would have been better off spending its cash on domestic fare rather than another Yank import. Speaking at the launch of BBC1’s fall schedule Tuesday, BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey, who took charge of the channel a year ago, said a storyline about the exploits of the U.S. Army during WWII would not attract enough viewers to justify a place in primetime. Quality drama “It’s a fantastic, quality piece of drama,” she said. “It looks like a movie. But I don’t think it was broad enough for a mainstream audience.” A BBC rep said HBO, which made “Brothers,” had been informed of the decision and had no problems with it. BBC1 has become more blatantly commercial since Heggessey succeeded Peter Salmon, who was part of the team that bought the series from HBO Enterprises last fall. Current affairs and arts programs have been moved from BBC1 to BBC2, and earlier this month BBC1 introduced a fourth weekly episode of popular soap “EastEnders.” Hit quizzer “Weakest Link” also arrived under Heggessey.
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