As BBC Studios prepares for its annual showcase, where it showcases its upcoming blockbuster projects to international buyers, UK-based BBC Studios Head of Comedy Jonathan Blyth and Kelly Miller, Senior Vice President of Strategy scripted from BBC Studios in Los Angeles, sat down with Variety to discuss what’s on their comedy roster, working with streamers, and the biggest challenges they’re currently facing.
What are you looking for in a comedy?
Kelly Miller (KM): It’s about telling authentic stories, that lived experience, a talent that has something to say. These are the comedies and shows that resonate the most with audiences around the world, but especially here in the United States.
Jonathan Blyth (JB): The talent is really at the heart, at the forefront. If you look at our list of showcases, we work with some of the best in the business, whether it’s Jamie Demetriou [creator and star of “Stath Lets Flats”]Daisy May Cooper, Romesh Ranganathan.
If people are pitching you, Jonathan, in the UK, are you looking for shows or ideas that will travel?
JB: Not necessarily. [My team] managing all of our major production partners and working closely with lots of brilliant talent, honing and really working on these development projects and helping to get them off the ground in the UK [But Kelly and I] talk every day so we couldn’t be more united. The United States is so important to our comedy business.
KM: Location is no longer a bad thing. You watch shows like ‘La Casa de Papel’ (‘Money Heist’) and ‘Squid Game’ around the world – the UK was at the forefront of this trend of being able to be British and localized in this sensibility , but still traveling, even if it’s not something completely recognizable to an American audience or an audience anywhere else in the world.
What is it about British comedy that is so popular, even with international audiences?
KM: The wealth of talent in the UK is unmatched. Some of the biggest global stars that we talk about daily come from the UK, and a lot of them come from a comedic sensibility and most of them have traveled through the BBC and been a really indelible part of the BBC brand.
In terms of commission, do you think what streamers might want, given that they often co-produce?
KM: I think streamers presented a really amazing opportunity to be unique. Broad is something that we’re incredibly good at on the one hand, but on the other hand having these unique storytellers that we’ve been talking about, especially in comedy, only helps us in the market because it’s is what streamers want.
JB: I think ‘The Outlaws’ is a great example, which is a show that we developed with the BBC. It was commissioned by BBC One and then we put it together with Amazon for a number of markets [outside the] UK Our BBC production unit is currently making shows for these global streamers, the third series “Trying” or “Good Omens”, the second series, are both in production at the moment.
Is there a risk that a partnership on American co-productions will cause comedy projects to lose their British flavor?
JB: I don’t think so. I think these American players, they want those authentic voices, British voices, they don’t want an American version. […] With “The Outlaws,” starring Stephen Merchant, Amazon was a great, creative partner and let Stephen run this without pushing.
KM: [When] I was a buyer a few years ago at Hulu. I think the imperative was to strike a balance between global talent and then keep the show inherently British. Where I feel like the pendulum has really swung [the other way] recently. […] I think in the beginning a lot of American streamers and buyers, linear networks, were asking for these recognizable faces so they could market them here in the United States. But because streaming has changed the game in a way that audiences find programming and what the barometer of success is, so much so that you can be successful with a face someone has never seen before.
Does BBC Studios offer first look deals to talent?
JB: No, we don’t. I mean, we’ll probably start doing more of these transactions in the future. But our relationships are deep-rooted relationships with talent, going back years, and we have this unique wisdom where they enjoy working with us. I think they think we’re a great partner in finding the widest audience for their work and bringing in some of the best partners. A show like “I Hate You”, which was created by Robert Popper, he’s one of the best writers in the country – we worked with Robert on his first project 20 years ago and really as a result of that experience , he then wanted to develop ‘Friday Night Dinner’ with us, which has become Channel 4’s highest rated sitcom for the past 20 years.
We have established ourselves as a real reference for talent and yes, it is an extremely competitive market at the moment. But they like to come back and work with us because they get this brilliant experience.
During last year’s Alternative MacTaggart talk at the Edinburgh Television Festival, British comedian London Hughes explained that she had to move to the United States to get her career off the ground, which she says was due to the fact that the British commissioners did not give her the same opportunities as her man. , white counterparts. How do you find new talent, especially diverse talent?
JB: Being inclusive in the way we work, the content we create, is absolutely crucial for our future. Supporting talent, working with a variety of comedic voices, is important as we seek to tell new stories and explore new ideas for a global audience.
In terms of comedies […] there is a shiny new series called “Black Ops”, which was tested a year ago. It is a comedy thriller, it was created by Gbemisola Ikumelo who is the BAFTA winning actress and writer.
KM: From a US perspective and thinking about the market here, those ambitions fit very well in terms of what the market wants and diverse storytelling, which is the right way to scale. And in terms of talent that we support, support, spend time finding. I think it’s an incredibly exciting time for all of us to celebrate these voices from all these different backgrounds.
What are you most looking forward to on your BBC Showcase slate?
KM: I’m personally very excited about “Am I being unreasonable? of Daisy May Cooper (pictured), I think she’s an incredible talent who will soon be a household name. It’s just incredibly bold and different and in the genre. And she has something to say as she’s an on-screen talent and she wrote the script and the story, creating the world was amazing to watch. So I’m very excited about that one.
JB: I think the exciting thing about “Am I being unreasonable?” it’s that it’s in the comedy-drama space, which is so fertile right now. “I Hate You” is a loud, loud comedy, very different from “Am I Being Unreasonable?” It’s about two best friends in their twenties who find their way in today’s messy world. It stars, Tania Reynolds [from] “Sex Education”, but also Melissa Saint. […] It’s so much fun. So I think it’s going to be a big hit.
There’s a lot of talk about the so-called “cancel culture” encroaching on comedy. Is this something you need to consider when commissioning?
JB: All BBC content is obviously to editorial standards, there are clear guidelines around harm, offense and it shouldn’t affect the creative freedom to pursue ideas or stories that really push those boundaries and challenge perceptions.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.
(Pictured: “Am I being unreasonable?”)