Beeb’s drama topper to try out telenovelas

Pubcaster commissions Talkback to develop up to 60 episodes

LONDON — The BBC, whose drama department is famed globally for upscale literary adaptations such as “Jane Eyre” and “Bleak House,” is climbing aboard the telenovela bandwagon.

The Beeb is teaming with several high-profile writers and has commissioned scribe Jonathan Harvey (“Beautiful Thing”) to develop a telenovela with leading U.K. indie Talkback Thames.

“We will know how many episodes we will do from the start,” said drama topper Jane Tranter. “It will have a beginning, a middle and an end, but we’ll shoot each episode just a few days before (transmission).”

Up to 60 segs are envisioned — a commitment that would help the BBC’s flagship web, BBC1, extend its lead over rival ITV1 if the show works.

Channel 4, Blighty’s leading web for cutting-edge Yank fare, is lining up “Ugly Betty,” a hit for ABC in the U.S., for U.K. transmission.

Telenovelas are an untried genre in the U.K., unlike Germany, where Fremantle Media has scored with the form.

Tranter was recently promoted to head of fiction at the pubcaster following the success of the revived “Doctor Who” and the recent “Bleak House.”

She said she wanted to adapt another Dickens novel but first intended to do “something a bit cheekier.”

One possibility is that the Beeb may follow the example of ABC, taking an existing telenovela and remaking it for its aud.

Another way forward, Tranter told the Guardian, would be to have writers who understand the conceits of the genre come up with new ideas.

However, wary of alienating core viewers who expect their melodrama to be served up in period costume, Tranter suggested the BBC would have to tread carefully before unleashing a telenovela on viewers.

“They aren’t the stuff of U.K. television culture,” she said. “So you have to understand what it is before you start breaking the rules.”

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