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BBC must learn its ABCs

Alphabet's successes inspires net's upcoming season

LONDON — BBC flagship web BBC1 should copy U.S. networks like ABC and be adventurous in commissioning skeins, according to the channel’s new topper, Peter Fincham, speaking at the unveiling of the net’s £226 million ($128.6 million) fall programming sked last week.

“Thanks to two great shows, ‘Desperate Housewives’ and ‘Lost,’ ABC is, I think, 17% up,” says Fincham, the former head of British indie Talkback who joined the pubcaster two months ago.

“Backing bold, adventurous high-quality shows sends a message to us. … Playing safe will lead to a steady declining share.”

Fincham has inherited a markedly upscale sked as the BBC continues to negotiate its future funding with government and regulators.

“The lineup,” he says, “is heading in the direction that BBC1 must continue to go — big, bold pieces in a rich and varied schedule, which tempt the viewers into new areas.”

The web is tackling traditional BBC fodder such as Dickens, Shakespeare and blue-chip docus in an original and unique way.

One tentpole of BBC1’s fall season is an adaptation of Dickens’ “Bleak House” featuring a star cast and shown twice a week, soap-style, in half-hour episodes. Move reps a big departure from screening costume drama on Sunday nights in 60-minute slugs.

Purists may be upset by a new take on some of Shakespeare’s dramas that feature contemporary prose side by side with the bard’s verses.

“Macbeth” is set in the world of celebrity chefs; “Much Ado About Nothing” is transferred to a bitchy TV news studio; and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is set during a weekend at a vacation park.

More familiar fare is provided by “The Virgin Queen,” about Elizabeth I, scripted by Paula Milne and starring Anne Marie Duff.

Documentary “Egypt” concerns the British explorers who uncovered Egypt’s antiquities in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Former “Monty Python” star Terry Jones presents a quirky doc about the history of the number one, “The Story of One.”

Veteran BBC globetrotter David Attenborough returns for natural history series “Life in the Undergrowth,” using cutting edge technology to bring the insect world to life.

Returning fare includes edgy comedy hit “Little Britain” and “Strictly Come Dancing,” reformatted for ABC as “Dancing With the Stars.”

Fincham also revealed that a new version of “Robin Hood” is being developed by Dominic Minghella, brother of helmer Anthony Minghella, for 2006.

“It’s another iconic family drama brand that once in a generation is good to look at,” he says.

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