BBC puts £9m into regional comedy commissioning

Liz Thomas

The BBC is launching a £9 million comedy fund for programmes made outside of London as part of a comprehensive overhaul of the commissioning process.

The move also sees the creation of the new position of head of comedy commissioning, responsible for all scripted comedy both from in-house producers and independents. Whoever is appointed will report to entertainment controller Jane Lush as part of her team. The role will be supported by a commissioning editor for comedy outside of London, who will be based in Glasgow with a remit to use the multi-million pound budget to develop the genre in the regions.

In a further bid to streamline the process the Corporation has also established three new specific executive editor posts. Senior commissioning executive Jon Beazley is to take on the position relating to mainstream entertainment, while his colleague Fenia Vardanis will take over the equivalent in format entertainment, which encompasses shows such as Fame Academy and Strictly Come Dancing. The final position in comedy entertainment has yet to be filled.

Lush said: “Entertainment and comedy are incredibly important to our audiences. I am confident these changes will help us get the very best programmes on screen.”

Head of comedy commissioning, Mark Freeland, a former commissioning editor of comedy and drama at Sky and Jon Plowman, head of comedy entertainment, whose credits include Absolutely Fabulous, The Vicar of Dibley and The League of Gentleman, have been invited to re-apply for the new role, which merges their current responsibilities.

The shake-up is in response to director-general Mark Thompson’s Content Supply review, one of four studies examining ways of cutting costs across the BBC in the run-up to its bid for charter renewal.

One of Thompson’s proposals is the creation of a so-called ‘Window of Creative Competition’, making 25% of commissions available to in-house BBC producers, independents or production houses owned by broadcasters. This is in addition to the quota set by Parliament, requiring that 25% of its commissions be made by independent producers.

Director of television Jana Bennett said: “Equal access and a one-stop shop for independents and in-house suppliers will ensure a level playing field and a simpler, faster commissioning process should underpin it. A strong independent sector and a flourishing in-house production base are not mutually exclusive and will stimulate the competition that will deliver the best ideas to the audience.”

In drama, changes have already begun following the appointment of John Yorke as controller of continuing drama series and joint head of independent drama with Lucy Richer. Factual and daytime genres will also introduce a new commissioning role outside of the capital after the Corporation came under fire for a London-centric approach to commissioning.

Bennett added: “Our primary commitment is to ensure a true meritocracy of commissioning and the new structure in each genre is designed to ensure that happens.”

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