BBC Studios is the U.K. public broadcaster’s production arm, which can work with outside parties as well as within the BBC. It has already set up “Good Omens,” a six-part TV comedy based upon the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel, for Amazon and the BBC, and an adaptation of Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables,” for flagship channel BBC One. It will now look to add to the drama slate with the Follett and Forsyth projects.
Of the two, “Jackdaws” is further along, with a script for the first episode already written by Mick Ford (“The Boy With the Topknot”). Follett’s 2001 novel follows a team of female insurgents in Occupied France in World War II. For TV, it was originally developed as a four-parter for the BBC, but the broadcaster was already well-stocked with World War II dramas with “SS-GB” and “My Mother and Other Strangers,” and is no longer on board the project.
BBC Studios subsequently redeveloped “Jackdaws” as a bigger-budget series of eight episodes, said Hilary Salmon, who is BBC Studios’ head of drama, London, working alongside the recently appointed heads of drama for Wales and Northern England, Simon Winstone and Tom Sherry, respectively. It will be pitched to partners as a returning series rather than as a one-off, with the action moved back several years from the book, with Follett’s approval, to provide room for the story to develop over multiple seasons, Salmon said.
BBC Studios is pitching the project to broadcasters and potential partners, and if it can attract some, production could start in 2018, Salmon said.
The adaptation of Forsyth’s “The Kill List” is less developed, with writer Ed Whitmore (“Rillington Place,” “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation”) attached and starting work on the script. A film version was in the works, but BBC Studios is prepping a TV series based on the 2013 novel, which may be Forsyth’s last as he switches his focus to nonfiction. The book follows Tracker, a former elite soldier, on his mission to find and kill a prolific terrorist called the Preacher. The adaptation will cover the events in the book, likely across six or eight episodes, and BBC Studios would then like the Tracker character to return for subsequent series.
BBC Studios emerged out of the BBC’s in-house production division, with the crucial difference that it can develop and make shows for third parties as well as the BBC’s channels. It is already in talks with potential partners internationally – including in the U.S. – about several projects, said Nick Betts, director of scripted production.
“There’s a good demand for BBC-produced content in the marketplace, and we’ve been pleasantly surprised by the reaction of commissioners on both sides of the Atlantic,” Betts said. “There’s a lot of co-production being done, and a big tranche of that comes from the States, whether it is AMC, BBC America, Amazon, Netflix or someone else.”
BBC Studios makes BBC shows “Doctor Who” and ongoing dramas such as soap opera “Eastenders.” With its new mandate, “we can now think about things that we know won’t be BBC projects,” Betts said. “There’s a huge appetite for specialist sci-fi around the world, for example, and particularly with the SVOD players, while on the BBC there isn’t huge scope beyond ‘Doctor Who.'”