CANNES — Sacha Baron Cohen and Andrew Newman, the former chief executive of Objective Productions, have set up U.K.-based production company Spelthorne Community Television, in which Channel 4 has taken a minority stake.
Spelthorne Community Television, which is named after the district from which Baron Cohen’s character Ali G came from, will specialize in creating scripted TV comedy and comedy entertainment content with a “strong focus on innovation and new ideas.” Through this company the duo will support new and emerging comedy writers and performers with “bold ambition.”
Baron Cohen’s relationship with Newman and Channel 4 reaches back to the 1990s. Baron Cohen made his debut in 1998 on Channel 4’s “The 11 O’clock Show,” where he worked with Newman, who was the show’s producer. Baron Cohen’s TV series “Da Ali G Show” also aired on Channel 4. It won two BAFTA TV awards and garnered several Emmy Award nominations in the U.S., where it played on HBO.
The show’s success led to his move into movies with “Ali G Indahouse” (2002), “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan” (2006), which was Oscar nominated and saw Baron Cohen awarded best actor at the Golden Globes in 2007, and “Brüno” (2009).
His Hollywood career has included roles in “Sweeney Todd,” “Les Miserables” and “The Dictator,” and he has most recently co-written and starred in the upcoming “Grimsby,” scheduled for release next year.
Until recently, Newman was chief executive at Objective, where over six years he was responsible for a slate of programs for the BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Five and Sky, amongst others, including “The Cube” (ITV1), “Peep Show” (Channel 4), “The Real Hustle” (BBC3), “Derren Brown” (Channel 4), “John Bishop’s Britain” (BBC1), “Fresh Meat” (Channel 4), “Big Bad World” (Comedy Central) and “Toast of London” (Channel 4).
Newman began his TV career as a runner on “The Big Breakfast.” He went on to work on some landmark shows including “Brass Eye” and “The Word,” before moving into key commissioning roles at Channel 4 and Five, where he was responsible for many successful comedy shows, including “8 Out of 10 Cats,” “Alan Carr Chatty Man,” “Bo Selecta,” “SWAG,” “The IT Crowd,” “Fonejacker,” “Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got the Pop Factor,” “Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set” and “The Inbetweeners.” Alongside his day job, Newman also wrote with Baron Cohen on the “Borat” and “Brüno” movies.
Baron Cohen said: “After more than a decade away from Channel 4, it’s very exciting to come back home, and back to the British TV industry that launched my career and those of many of my contemporaries: Ricky Gervais, John Oliver and those blokes who did ‘The Inbetweeners.’ All have gone on to have great success internationally. A little too much success if I’m honest.
“But this isn’t about people who are at the top of the pile and are coasting — this is a chance to help establish careers for ambitious people who have yet to make a mark in British television — I include amongst these, Andrew Newman, who, let’s face it, hasn’t done a lot since he worked with me on ‘The 11 O’Clock Show’ nearly 20 years ago.
“Ultimately our aim with Spelthorne Community Television is to discover new talent, develop new shows, then test them on U.K. audiences before we remake them, starring me, for the much more important U.S. market.”
Newman said: “Just as Channel 4 backed Sacha’s edgy comic vision with ‘Ali G,’ I hope that through the backing of the Growth Fund our new company will be able to do the same for other people with fresh ideas. Over the past six years I’ve had great fun producing ground breaking and innovative shows but setting up this business with Sacha is a brand new creative opportunity. We want to make top quality television across the board and with so many emerging platforms now seems like a brilliant time to do it.”
Channel 4 takes a minority stake in Spelthorne Community Television through its Growth Fund. The aim of the investment is to help a new generation of risk-taking comedy talent to break out. The £20 million ($30.7 million) Growth Fund, headed up by Laura Franses, was launched in 2014 to support the U.K. independent production sector.
David Abraham, chief executive at Channel 4, said: “I’m thrilled to see Sacha and Andrew return to their Channel 4 roots where their special creative talent for making distinctive comedy was first nurtured. Spelthorne Community Television share the Growth Fund’s ambition to support innovative talent, and we’re looking forward to working with them as they develop a business which invests in the next generation of unforgettable comedy shows and characters.”