BBC America is in the midst of its first big development push under the leadership of president and general manager Sarah Barnett, who took the reins of the cabler early last year.
Projects in the works include dramas from the producers behind “Orphan Black,” Amy Poehler’s production banner and “Happy Valley” producer Red.
This month, BBCA began production on the first original scripted series to be greenlit by the new regime, an adaptation of Douglas Adams’ 1987 novel “Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.” That show is set for debut Oct. 22, part of a wave of new series arriving on the channel in the second half of the year.
Barnett and her team did a fair amount of research to wrap their minds around the challenge of expanding BBC America’s brand. “We spent a lot of time thinking about what the ‘A’ stood for in BBCA,” she says.
What struck Barnett most about the revamp process was how different it was from her early experience at SundanceTV just six years before. Back then, the team didn’t have to take into major consideration how viewers wanted to watch their shows. Not so this time around.
“There’s such a content boom and so many new players,” Barnett says. “Audience behavior is being driven by technology in all sorts of new ways. We had to think about what kind of content people are excited to consume on a linear platform and what they will no longer come for.”
The answer to the former, she believes, is a mixture of live and special events, and shows that might inspire what she calls “crazy love” among viewers — the kind of feelings viewers already have for the network’s “Doctor Who,” “Orphan Black,” and “Top Gear.” The “ingredients” of those shows helped inform the development focus, Barnett says.
Among the new prospects:
■ “Memoria,” a drama from writer Adam Barken and “Orphan Black” producer Temple Street Prods., about a man who begins to unravel after his memories conflict with those recalled by technology.
■ “Zero Motivation,” a comedic drama set among women in the Israeli army. Tami Sagher (“Girls,” “Inside Amy Schumer”) is writing for Amy Poehler’s Paper Kite banner is producing with Natasha Lyonne and Israeli filmmaker Talya Lavie. Elon Ratzkovsky and Brooke Posch also exec produce.
■ “Foreign Babes in Beijing,” a drama about the experiences of actress Rachel DeWoskin, who left New York to star in a Chinese soap opera. The show is produced by “Mad Men” alums Maria and Andre Jacquemetton with DeWoskin and Zayn Dorn. Dan Halstead also produces.
■ “Quatermass,” a remake of the Brit series about a professor and his daughter who investigate an alien invasion, written by Jeremy Dyson for “Happy Valley” producer Red. StudioCanal will handle international distribution.
■ “Trip,” written by Louise Fox, is a new spin on the Chinese novel “Monkey: Journey to the West.” See-Saw Films (“Top of the Lake”) is producing.
■ “Junk” is billed as a satirical look at the soda and junk food industry. Dean Craig is writing with Neal Baer exec producing.
Among the new series rollouts, “The Hunt,” a David Attenborough docu series that looks at predators and prey in the wild, will help BBCA reclaim from Discovery Channel some of the BBC’s high-end natural history programming starting July 3. Period drama “Ripper Street” returns for season four on July 28. The six-hour limited series “Undercover,” a political thriller involving a high-ranking black public figure in Britain starring Sophie Okonedo, Adrian Lester and Dennis Haysbert, opens Nov. 17.
And BBCA is hoping to attract a big live crowd with a stunt featuring David Beckham. The soccer star will go on a worldwide trek in the 90-minute special “For the Love of the Game,” in which he’s challenged to play seven matches in seven continents and get back to the U.K. in time for an all-star charity game.
(Pictured: Sarah Barnett with “Top Gear” host Chris Evans)