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BBC U.S. doubles budget

Coin will go heavily into comedy and drama

NEW YORK — Pushing to get back the thousands of viewers who deserted the network in 2004, BBC America has doubled its programming budget and hired former Comedy Central exec Kathryn Mitchell as general manager — a newly created post.

The network’s ratings fell by double digits in total viewers and key demographics last year, said Bill Hilary, prexy-chief exec of BBC America, because “our programming became too reliant on the reality genre. We ran makeover shows like wallpaper.”

The bigger budget Hilary and Mitchell will get, which could climb to a healthy $50 million in 2005, will go heavily into comedy and drama. “Instead of doing three or four co-productions, as we did last year, we’ll do as many as 11 or 12 a year going forward,” Hilary said.

BBC America will co-produce mainly with British companies, not just the BBC but independents like Granada and Channel Four.

First series in 2006

Hilary added that “we’re setting up an inhouse development team and should be in production on our first original series early in 2006.”

BBC America has lots of leeway to experiment on programming because “we’re not driven by giant corporate machines. We don’t have to deliver huge profits yet.” The 7-year-old BBC America is wholly owned by the BBC and distributed in the U.S. by Discovery Networks as part of its joint venture with the BBC.

Mitchell resigned in October as senior VP of programming for Comedy Central after three years in the job. Before Comedy Central, Mitchell was controller for the UKTV Channels, one of the biggest cable-network groups in the British Isles.