BBC to invest £10m in comedy content

UK pubcaster the BBC is to invest an extra £10m in “high-impact” comedy programming over the next two years.

BBC Comedy director Jon Petrie said that this will enable more “ambitious pieces” for streaming service BBC iPlayer “where our audiences are increasingly discovering our new British Comedy titles.”

Petrie laid out his plans in a speech at the BBC Comedy Festival in Newcastle today, in which he also pledged to double the number of half-hour pilots commissioned.

The BBC aims to remain the biggest investor in comedy in the UK, and Petrie detailed further plans including the launch of BBC Comedy Short Films next month, which will consolidate current short form strands Laugh Lessons, Threesomes and Comedy Shorts.

This is to “shine a light on some of the best upcoming talent on and off screen with much more importance placed on the short film idea, rather than whether the idea could end up becoming a TV show,” said Petrie.

Current writing bursaries are to expand into the ‘BBC Comedy Bursary Collective’, which will give up-and-coming comedy directors and producers a place to hone their craft.

Petrie also announced upcoming BBC Comedy commissions, including Juice, Mawaan Rizwan’s comedy pilot, which has been taken to series for BBC Three and BBC iPlayer. Produced by VAL Production, the 6 x 30-minute series follows Jamma (Rizwan) who desperately wants to be the centre of attention, but his family are constantly stealing his thunder.

Returning shows, meanwhile, include new Detectorists, with the show returning for a 1 x 75-minute special after a five-year absence. The series, which launched 2014, follows the travails of two metal detecting hobbyists, Lance and Andy, as they negotiate the beautiful gentle rhythms of the English countryside.

A 1 x 45-minute 10-year anniversary special and subsequent new 6 x 30-minute series for Bad Education are also in the works for BBC Three and BBC iPlayer. The special will reunite useless teacher and big kid Alfie Wickers (Jack Whitehall) with his old students one last time, before the new season introduces a new set of characters.

Further orders include new short-form comedy Mobility, from Jack Carroll and Tom Gregory, and further recommissions for JerkThe Cleaner and Guilt.

“More than anything else we want shows that connect with our audience – whether they’re big and broad or weird and provocative,” said Petrie at the festival, sharing the pubcaster’s comedy wishlist.

“Worlds that the audience can see themselves in often connect in the deepest way – it’s no accident that it’s the family home and the workplace that have proved the most enduring settings for sitcoms.

“Some of the most creatively brilliant and popular shows of the last couple of years like Ghosts and Motherland have that classic DNA in them but we get pitched comparatively few of those kinds of shows. So, bring us more!”

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