U.K.'s Channel 4 Chases Global Partners

Network looks to back shows that would sit comfortably on U.S cable channels

LONDON — U.K. broadcaster Channel 4 is to invest millions in international drama co-productions as part of a new strategy unveiled Thursday. The network is looking to back shows that would sit comfortably on U.S cable channels like HBO and Showtime, including “genre pieces with a twist.”

Channel 4 has tapped Simon Maxwell in the newly created role of head of international drama, reporting to head of drama, Piers Wenger. Maxwell will be responsible for commissioning a slate of “high-quality, ambitious drama co-productions that have international appeal.”

The new co-productions will need to satisfy Channel 4’s public service remit, which calls for programming that demonstrates “innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programs,” and exhibits a “distinctive character,” among other requirements.

The increased investment in original drama co-productions will complement the network’s slate of home-grown drama, the budget for which remains unchanged.

Channel 4 will continue to acquire content from the U.S. and Europe, it said. Recent acquisitions have included cop comedy “Brooklyn Nine Nine,” “Fargo” from Joel and Ethan Cohen, spy thriller “Homeland,” sci-fi drama “The 100,” French zombie drama “The Returned” and Norwegian thriller “Mammon.”

It is intended that the new co-production slate will bring international talent to Channel 4, and give British writers, directors and producers an international platform.

The new shows could benefit from the U.K.’s tax credit for high-budget TV drama, which the government introduced last year. This offers up to 25% tax break on U.K. productions budgeted in excess of £1 million ($1.66 million) an hour.

Wenger told U.K. trade magazine Broadcast he wants to commission original content “that can travel.”

He said: “Audiences throughout the world have become more adventurous and less provincial in their tastes, which has given U.K. talent a global platform. Producers and broadcasters in the States and Europe are coming for our talent.

“Our strategy offers U.K. writers and producers a greater chance to carry on working within the U.K., while allowing their work to reach a much wider international audience.”

Wenger wants to develop projects that could sit comfortably on premium U.S. cable networks, such as HBO and Showtime.

“Channel 4 has something akin to the U.S. cable sensibility, which means we can produce distinctive drama,” he said.

He said that shows like “Homeland” and “The Returned” would have fitted the new strategy.

“Both ‘Homeland’ and ‘The Returned’ are high-quality and distinctive. They are both genre pieces with a twist, with characters that are intelligent, entertaining and compelling,” he added.

Maxwell’s background is as a television and film producer. He’s joining Channel 4 from Red Arrow Entertainment where, as head of drama and comedy, he launched the Red Arrow Group’s U.K. scripted operation.

Maxwell has specialized in developing and producing drama for the international market, working with broadcasters in the U.K., continental Europe and U.S. on projects such as “Odyssey” for NBC, and “Hannibal” for History.

Previously he was head of film and TV at indie Greenroom Entertainment, where he ran a slate that included crime drama “Rogue” for DirecTV, and he executive produced the BBC sitcom “Off the Hook” and the feature film “Killing Bono,” for which he co-wrote the screenplay.

Channel 4’s current drama slate includes historical drama “New Worlds,” whose ensemble cast includes Jamie Dornan (“Fifty Shades of Grey”), Freya Mavor (“Skins”), Alice Englert (“Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell”) and Joe Dempsie (“Game of Thrones”). It is produced by Company Pictures.

Other drama on its slate includes Russell T. Davies’ “Cucumber,” “Banana” and “Tofu”; Jack Thorne’s “Glue”; a return of Dennis Kelly’s “Utopia”; “Babylon” from Sam Bain, Jesse Armstrong and Danny Boyle; Paul Rutman’s epic “Indian Summers”; Paul Abbott’s “No Offence”; and “Cut” from new TV writer D.C. Moore.

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