Scripted teen series a hit in the U.K.

MTV will develop a U.S. version of U.K. teen hit “Skins,” to be set and filmed in Baltimore with a cast of unknowns.

Bryan Elsley, who co-created the show in Britain, will exec produce the Stateside version with Charlie Pattinson and George Faber of Company Pictures (“Generation Kill”). MTV is committed to producing Elsley’s to-be-written pilot script.

“It’s been two years that I’ve been personally involved in trying to get this here to the network,” MTV senior veep of series development Liz Gateley told Daily Variety, “and I don’t think I’ve ever had a negotiation drag out as long as this, but I knew it was something very special.”

“Skins” premiered on the U.K.’s youth-oriented E4 channel in January 2007, and episodes began airing on BBC America in 2008.

“That’s when the bidding for this show heated up,” Gateley said. “We had gotten our fingers on it at MTV well before it was even a huge phenomenon (abroad). … The fact that the U.S. numbers were good only furthered my desire to have it. I was very worried about it going elsewhere.”

Pattinson told Daily Variety that Company wanted to better assess the series’ strength before franchising it to the States. Previous adaptations of Company projects (“Young Person’s Guide to Being a Rock Star,” “Life Is Wild”) foundered on U.S. shores.

“It became a long process, partly us feeling we wanted to make sure we were getting the format right in the U.K. before we made any rash decisions,” Pattinson said.

Company’s course of action included following through on plans to recast “Skins” in Britain before the start of this year’s third season, to maintain authenticity — meaning that the show couldn’t take full advantage of ensemble member Dev Patel’s breakout performance in the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire.” Patel launched his acting career via a “Skins” open audition.

“We didn’t get the benefit, but I think the show by association has gotten the benefit to some degree,” Pattinson said.

Following the show’s lead in the U.K., “Skins” will feature teenagers not only in the cast but in the storytelling. Locking in Elsley to shepherd the new crew was key to completing the deal.

“The process in the U.K. has involved getting together consultant groups of teenagers whom we talk to on a very regular basis — we meet weekly,” Pattinson said. “Eight of our episodes are being written by writers under 22. … one of those writers, by the way, is 17.”

While there will be obvious cultural changes in the program’s content related to its move to the U.S., Pattinson said no radical departures are planned for the outset.

“I think the way it works is you start like ‘The Office’ or like ‘Queer as Folk,'” Pattinson said. “You start quite close, and then as those start to work … they develop a personality and life of their own. I personally think the danger is to make too many radical changes to the format too early. We’ve been down that path with a couple of shows – it becomes a compromised format at that point.”

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