Jane Tranter: BBC Worldwide Prods. Taps Success

Subsid of Brit pubcaster mines hits with shows like 'Da Vinci's Demons'

Tom Riley

BBC Worldwide Prods. is developing British scripted series in America for the world with former BBC head of fiction Jane Tranter at the helm. Since Tranter came to the U.S. in 2009 to run BBC Worldwide Prods., it has grown from having two shows on the air to more than 20 series in production.

In 2012 BBC Worldwide Prods. created label Adjacent Prods. dedicated to projects that are not based upon BBC formats.

The brand will function alongside but separate from the rapidly growing BBC Worldwide Prods., which in 2012 produced more than 140 hours of original programming — some but not all derived from BBC-created programming.

But was the process of commissioning and producing drama much different in the U.S.?

“Scripted takes as long to get going in the U.S. as it does in the U.K. I’ve been here in L.A. for four years. Only now are we shooting the second season (10 episodes compared with first run of eight) of “Da Vinci’s Demons,” Tranter says. “That’s a fulfilment of the strategy to come out here to live and work in American TV. We needed to understand what U.S. broadcasters want so that we are able to make drama using British talent, shot in Britain and made the British way but which works for the U.S. I couldn’t do that from the U.K. You can’t make drama for people like Starz without understanding what premium cable TV is like here.”

She adds that in the past, she’s worked on co-productions that have started in the U.K., filmed there and the partners have come on board as the project develops. But now, “it’s the U.S. coming in from the start and putting the majority of the money in — vast amounts of money.”

The budget for Da Vinci’s Demons is also U.S. premium-cable style: “(It) was really large, not as much as Game of Thrones (which reportedly cost around $60 million for its first season), but twice as much as I’ve ever had to spend on anything,” Tranter says.

She wouldn’t be drawn on a specific budget amount but the first season is reported to have cost $30 million. The Welsh government helped finance building of a studio for the series in a former car factory at Swansea Bay.

BBC Worldwide Prods. is also commissioning and producing two comedy series: “Getting On” for HBO, which has just been commissioned, and “Us & Them,” which was picked up by Fox for a midseason order of 13.

“They are both reformatted versions of British shows. ‘Getting On’ is based on the BBC show of the same name starring Jo Brand and set in a NHS hospital. It has run for three seasons (in the U.K.). ‘Us & Them’ is a remake of (BBC hit) ‘Gavin and Stacey,’ ” says Tranter. “No one else in the U.S. apart from HBO would have done ‘Getting On.’ It’s completely the opposite end of the spectrum to a show like ‘Girls.’ There’s no makeup and no costumes. If the cast look tired, they look tired — none of the normal stuff, no support underwear!”

What does she about working in London?

“I miss everybody — writers, actors, producers, all my colleagues. I miss that sense of a collegiate atmosphere. British TV is an art form. People are putting their heart and soul into it. Here it’s a business opportunity. There’s a frisson about that, but it’s not the same.”