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U.K.: ‘Friends’ forever

Mipcom 2005: Hot show

LONDON — Shows such as “Friends,” “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the “Star Trek” franchise are no longer in production, but these U.S. imports remain reliable audience grabbers in the U.K.

“Friends,” which ended its 10-year stint in 2004, was a big show for Blighty’s commercial pubcaster Channel 4, winning some of the highest ratings in the web’s history.

These days it’s the most consistent performer for Channel 4 spinoff net E4. The station’s female-skewed 16-34 demographic have what looks to be an insatiable appetite for the romantic ups and downs of that Manhattan sextet.

“‘Friends’ is still getting big audiences because it’s one of the best comedies ever made,” says Channel 4’s acquisitions topper Jeff Ford. “People have grown up with ‘Friends.’ They like all the characters — faults and all. It’s brilliantly performed and the writing is always funny.

“Audiences are very comfortable with these classic shows, which have a shelf life that seems to go on forever. You can’t drop a show like ‘Friends’ from E4 because it would destroy the schedule.”

The same holds true for reruns of “The Simpsons,” played by Channel 4 at 6 p.m. Monday to Friday. Episodes regularly make the web’s top 20. “Friends” double bills are stripped across E4 six nights a week at 8 p.m.

Despite going head-to-head with some of the U.K.’s big performing soaps — including BBC1’s blue-collar “EastEnders” and ITV1’s Fremantle Media cop show “The Bill” — audiences of 300,000 are common, a high figure for a digital web.

E4 is now available on Blighty’s digital terrestrial platform, Freeview, so expect auds for “Friends” to get bigger in the near future.

Much of E4’s schedule is governed by reruns of U.S. fare such as “Six Feet Under,” “Sex and The City” and even “Cheers,” but “Friends” remains the most popular. Four or more episodes of “Friends” feature regularly in E4’s top 10.

Meanwhile, reruns of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and the various “Star Treks” skeins continue to play on satcaster BSkyB’s entertainment flagship, Sky One, targeted at a more male aud than E4.

” ‘Buffy’ is a unique concept with a very loyal fan base, a bona fide classic,” says Sophie Turner-Laing, Sky Networks’ deputy managing director and chief buyer. “Sarah Michelle Geller might have quite a lot to do with it. Nothing comes close to ‘Buffy’ in that genre, which is rather sad. If anything did, we’d snap it up right away.”

“Star Trek” is a staple of Sky One’s daytime lineup and forms part of the web’s big commitment to sci-fi shows.

“The U.K. has always had a great affinity for sci-fi. We all grew up on ‘Dr. Who,’ says Turner-Laing. ” ‘Star Trek’ was the ‘CSI’ of its day.”

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