With a rising profile among viewers and advertisers, BBC America has begun creating content specifically for U.S. audiences: The network has greenlit two new series all its own and has five more in development.
The Beeb’s Stateside sister net has bought six hourlong episodes of “Hard Drive With Richard Hammond,” based on the BBC’s “World’s Toughest Driving Tests” and starring “Top Gear” host Hammond, as well as 13 half-hours of “Would You Rather With Graham Norton,” a gameshow shot in New York that pits comedians against each other. Both are working titles.
“Hard Drive” is produced by BBC Worldwide. “Would You Rather,” produced by So Television, will begin airing later this year as part of BBC America’s Ministry of Laughs comedy block.
In addition, BBC America will air one-hour special “Shock Therapy,” a backdoor pilot based on the BBC’s “Fat and Fatter,” in which the show’s hosts pair up young people with folks who resemble their future selves if they refuse to mend their ways.
The greenlights, said BBC America g.m. Perry Simon, are part of a larger original content strategy. “When (BBC Worldwide America prexy) Herb Scannell joined last summer and then brought me in as general manager, there was a plan put in to invest in original programming,” Simon said. “We wanted to do a two-pronged effort — scripted and unscripted.”
Scripted programming is a little further down the road than the unscripted content. “The reality is that you can pull unscripted together more quickly and you can do more with your budget initially,” he said. It helps, too, to goose ad dollars when you’re creating programming specifically for your market rather than repurposing. BBC America isn’t selling ad inventory through Discovery anymore, and it held its first upfront party earlier this year.
The net is hedging its bets with shows in development that play up to past successes on BBC America: Reveille’s “Auto Biography,” a show that reunites vintage cars with their past owners; New York-based cooking competish show “No Kitchen Required,” from producer Notional; and “Battlemodo,” a gadget comparison program produced by True Entertainment in association with Gawker Media’s tech site Gizmodo.
It’s also developing “James May’s Man Lab,” a U.S. version of the Brit show of the same name, in which “Top Gear” host May helps the shy and retiring to man up.
“All of these shows have some kind of connectivity to the BBC or to the U.K.,” Simon said of the new programs and the development slate. “No Kitchen” is designed to appeal to folks who like “Kitchen Confidential”; “Auto Biography” and “Hard Drive” both appeal to the “Top Gear” fanbase, and so on.
The new shows will also help BBC America with another problem: scheduling. Brit programs tend to have seasons of 12 episodes max. More often, it’s six or eight. “Another part of the strategy in building our own shows is that we can have more of a consistent pipeline,” Simon said.
And the network’s Ministry of Laughs and Dramaville programming blocks rep efforts to make programming types consistent, even when the programs have to change fairly regularly. “It creates a continuity that I don’t think we had before.”