The Most Flattered Network: BBC America Revolutionizes Television in the U.S

By Frutkin, A. J. | ADWEEK, May 3, 2004 | Go to article overview

The Most Flattered Network: BBC America Revolutionizes Television in the U.S


Frutkin, A. J., ADWEEK


THE OFFICE IS ONE IN A LONG LINE OF SMART, sophisticated British comedies to have crossed the Atlantic over the past half century. But for BBC America, it's the show that put the emerging cable network on the map.

A workplace comedy set in a paper manufacturing company outside of London, the show took home two trophies at the Golden Globe Awards earlier this year: one for best comedy series and another for best comedy actor (awarded to star and co-creator Ricky Gervais). Following those wins, all eyes have focused on BBC America as a destination for cutting-edge programming.

In fact, BBC America has stirred so much buzz throughout the television industry that CEO Paul Lee, a U.K. native, was tapped last month to become president of ABC Family, following Disney's corporate restructuring of its broadcast and cable properties. In Lee's absence, Jo Petherbridge, BBC A's senior vp of strategy and communications, was named acting COO.

In the wake of The Office's success--and prior to Lee's exit--BBC A already had begun an aggressive push into new programming. "We decided early on that we didn't want to be your grandfather's BBC," Lee said before his move to ABC Family was announced. "We wanted to be younger, cooler and more relevant. Which is why we've put less emphasis on period dramas and more on groundbreaking, quality programming."

Distributed by Discovery Networks, BBC A premiered the highly acclaimed political drama State of Play last month. It also launched the romantic thriller Take Me, the detective series Murphy's Law, and the Scottish sketch-comedy show Velvet Soup. Later this summer, it premieres the mystery series Messiah, which, in terms of quality, Lee noted, "is up there with Prime Suspect." On the nonfiction side, the cable net recently launched the real estate property show Location, Location, Location; and it is preparing to launch its latest makeover show Design Rules later this month.

Reaching 38 million homes, BBC A's impact on American programming seems to outweigh its limited reach. After all, if imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then BBC A "is the most flattered cable network out there," said Kathryn Thomas, associate director of Starcom Entertainment. …

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