BBC conjures up ‘Merlin’

Network looks for U.S. partner on show

The BBC is seeking a U.S. co-producer to invest in “Merlin,” a 13-part skein based on the mythical wizard and aimed at the same family audience as “Doctor Who” and “Robin Hood.”

Scripts for “Merlin” are being developed by U.K. indie Shine, run by Rupert Murdoch’s daughter Elisabeth.

“It will focus on Merlin as a young man and magic, rather than the Knights of the Round Table,” said Jane Tranter, BBC’s head of fiction.

She was speaking Thursday at the launch of the winter/spring schedule of BBC1, the pubcaster’s flagship channel, where controller Peter Fincham reaffirmed his commitment to family entertainment.

“Three-generation TV — that’s TV you can watch with children and their grandparents — there’s not enough of that about,” said Fincham.

Fincham was upbeat about the prospects for BBC1 in the digital era of multiple channels.

He said: “Mainstream channels are no longer on the defensive. BBC1’s share in multichannel households has increased by 4.6% in the past year.”

The BBC1 winter/spring sked is being spearheaded by the return of reality series “Castaway” and the elevation of “The Apprentice” from sister station BBC2.

More upscale fare includes an as-yet-untitled drama from Stephen Poliakoff in which Michael Gambon plays a reclusive billionaire. Maggie Smith also stars.

Fincham also is developing a new sketch show created by “Little Britain” stars Matt Lucas and David Walliams.