Channel 4 drama gets £20 million boost from Big Brother axe

Channel 4 is to boost its drama budget by £20 million a year as part of a renewed commitment to the genre, following its decision to axe Big Brother from its schedules.

The broadcaster said today it had decided to pull the reality series after next year’s run, which will free up in excess of £50 million a year towards commissioning other programmes.

It said that £20 million of this would be ploughed back into drama from 2011, and added it was now looking to independent drama commissioners to come forward with ideas for shows that can be broadcast in place of Big Brother, which will leave around 200 hours in peak time to fill.

Director of television and content at Channel 4, Kevin Lygo, said the extra funds in the drama budget would allow the broadcaster to deliver more “event dramas” such as this year’s Red Riding and The Devil’s Whore, but added Channel 4 would be looking for “more quirky, returnable series aimed at younger audiences”.

In addition, he revealed that Channel 4 was looking for a long-running comedy drama and single films that can sit “at the heart” of themed seasons.

“Channel 4 is at its best when it does things that others don’t or won’t. This is a fresh opportunity to reach out to audiences underserved by drama on the more mainstream channels. We don’t want to be prescriptive about themes or formats. We just want the most creative ideas from Britain’s best new and established drama talent,” Lygo said.

News of the increase to the budget will be welcomed by the independent sector, which had feared for the future of drama on Channel 4 after it emerged that senior board members had discussed dropping the genre altogether in a bid to save money.

The broadcaster has been open about the impact shrinking advertising revenues have had on drama recently, with Julian Bellamy, head of Channel 4, stating at the launch of the broadcaster’s autumn schedule today that it has been hit directly by cuts to the programming budgets.

Looking at this autumn’s line up, he admitted there was not much “original drama” in it, but said today’s announcement about Big Brother meant there would be “huge burst of creative energy” at Channel 4.

He said the removal of Big Brother from the schedules after next year would lead to the “most significant creative transformation in the history of the channel”.

Bellamy added he wanted the “next generation” of shows, but said he did not know “what shape or size” these would be.

At the launch today, Bellamy unveiled three new drama serials to be broadcast during 2010.

This includes We Were Faces, which is the debut television drama from Shane Meadows, who made the film This is England.

We Were Faces will explore the characters created in This is England four years later, in 1986.

Meadows said: “When I finished This is England, I had a wealth of material that I felt very keen to take further – audiences seemed to really respond to the characters we created and out of my long standing relationship with Film4 and Channel 4, the idea for a television serial developed.”

The four-part drama is being written by Meadows and Jack Thorne, and is being made by Warp Films.

Meanwhile, Channel 4 has also commissioned an adaptation of William Boyd’s book, Any Human Heart.

This four-part serial will be adapted by Boyd himself and is being made by Carnival Films, which made Whitechapel for ITV.

Finally, Peter Kosminsky is to make Homeland, a four-part drama exploring the aftermath of the British Mandate in 1940s Palestine.

It is being made by Daybreak Pictures.

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