Tranter promotes BBC values on unscripted side

'Dancing' highlights exec's expanded role

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Moving from Dickens to “Dancing With the Stars” might seem like a jarring transition, but BBC Worldwide exec Jane Tranter sees a fair amount of continuity between the scripted and unscripted sides of her broadcasting organization.

Tranter, BBC Worldwide’s executive vice president of programming and production, has worked for the company since 1997, first overseeing drama and later all of fiction — including drama, film, comedy and acquisitions. She commissioned popular dramas like “State of Play” and “Spooks” and helped revive the classic sci-fi series “Doctor Who.” In 2002 alone, she oversaw 473 hours of television.

Packaging an unscripted reality show such as “Dancing With the Stars” isn’t all that different from putting together a 15-part adaptation of “Bleak House,” Tranter says. Both boil down to story and casting.

“With ‘Dancing,’ some of the celebrities are well-known, and some you’re presenting to the audience for kind of the first time,” she says. “The audience is following their journey, and to get through to the audience, you have to tell a story of that journey. You have to find a way to insightfully reveal character and then package the Monday night show to tell a soap-operatic story.”

That narrative sweep is a distinctive signature of the American version of “Dancing,” a show licensed to more than 35 countries worldwide. But it only works, Tranter says, if you have the proper mix of “characters.” Here again, she draws upon her background on the scripted side.

“My mantra on casting is you have to have courage and, if necessary, cast late,” Tranter says. “You wait and you wait and you wait, and that’s the way magic normally happens — through courage and patience and … a little bit of fear.”

BBC Worldwide revolves around “Dancing” but has produced a number of other unscripted programs recently, too, including NBC’s “Great American Road Trip” and the makeover show “What Not to Wear,” now in its seventh season on TLC. A “Dancing” spin-off, “Skating With the Stars,” debuts later this month.

The American version of the long-running U.K. car show “Top Gear” also shifts into drive in November on the History Channel, and Tranter says BBC Worldwide has two other untitled reality programs in production, one for TLC, the other for Oprah Winfrey’s network, OWN.

Where Worldwide is making its greatest strides, Tranter says, is on the scripted side. The broadcaster is producing a new series of the BBC’s “Doctor Who” spinoff “Torchwood” for Starz and has a number of other shows in development.

“For a company that’s only been in existence 20 months, we have a very large sold scripted development slate,” Tranter says.

The goal, Tranter adds, is to create shows that get sold and get people talking while upholding the values of the BBC.

“Those values can be funny and witty and warm and audacious and bold and daring — but never unsavory,” Tranter says. “I think you see that embodied in ‘Dancing,’ which just shows that those BBC values, when cut through with entrepreneurial charm and spirit, can really reach an audience.”