BBC commissioner talks comedy treatments

BBC commissioner talks comedy treatments

The Knowledge spoke to BBC comedy commissioner Chris Sussman about what kind of shows he’s looking for in 2014 and how writers with funny bones can get their idea up on screen…

How will the commissioning process change for BBC Three now that it will become an online only channel?

The truth is it’s hard to know. The news is very recent, and everyone is still working out how BBC Three is going to work as an online channel. It’s an incredibly important space for comedy, both in terms of developing new talent and having the ability to take risks, so my hope it that it won’t affect us too much. In an ideal world, we’d still be able to commission a range of well-funded comedy series that would allow us to keep viewers hooked and attract top young talent to the BBC.  

What types of comedy programmes are you looking for in 2014?

We have no restrictions really because our channels show a range of content, from big studio shows on BBC One and Two, to smaller, single camera projects. I think the thing about the BBC is that it’s got to cater for a variety of tastes so you can’t just look for one specific thing. Nothing is off the menu.

What programmes worked well for you in 2013?

The second series of BBC Three’s Bad Education worked really well. The first episode received four million viewers, brilliant numbers for the channel. Him & Her: The Wedding (BBC Three) was critically acclaimed (The Independent called it ‘the real McCoy’), and BBC Two’s Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe was a really good smart satirical take on news and culture.  

The critically acclaimed Him & Her: The Wedding (BBC Three)

Is there anything that is a no for you?

It’s hard to put a blanket rule on things like that, but the big turn offs are programmes that are very similar to stuff we’re already doing: we’ve got two sitcoms set in schools (BBC Ones’s Big School, Bad Education), so if we get something set in a school there’s got to be a really good reason for us to make it. But apart from that no – it’s all about the treatment.

What commission are you most fond of?

The first series of Cuckoo for BBC Three, which broke the record for the channel’s most-watched comedy launch. But it was hard work to put together in terms of getting all the talent in the same place at the same time. I was really proud of that show, and like all art, it gives you some pride when people like it and respond well.

What are the trends in comedy programmes at moment?

There has been a lot of historical comedies of late such as Plebs (ITV2), Chickens (Sky1) and Up the Women (BBC Two). There are also more studio sitcoms on now than there were a couple of years ago. ITV have got back into the studio sitcom market with shows like Vicious and Birds of a Feather. Our most successful studio shows on BBC One are Mrs Brown’s Boys and Miranda.

Are there any taboos left in comedy?

Yes, there’s always taboos. Comedy has to explore the boundaries but as a commissioner you know instinctively when you’re reading something whether it crosses a line and whether it’s offensive or not. It’s the same for film, drama or documentary. We have the Ofcom code which we have to adhere to and there’s the law,

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