BBC announces new comedy initiatives

Wednesday 11th May 2022, 5:30pm

  • BBC Comedy has announced a range of changes to how it develops talent and new comedy formats
  • It will reorganise its writing bursaries alongside a new opportunity for producers and directors
  • The TV scripted comedy team will also commission double the number of pilots each year - but make none for broadcast
BBC Comedy Festival

The BBC has announced it is to increase its investment in the scripted comedy, with initiatives including more pilots, consolidating its short form strands, and opening new producer and director bursaries alongside its existing writing bursaries.

Jon Petrie, the BBC's Director of Comedy on television, announced the news as he laid out his plans for the future of comedy at the corporation whilst opening the BBC Comedy Festival in Newcastle, a three day event involving sessions for comedy creators.

Petrie said in his speech: "The BBC remains the best place to develop and nurture new comic voices. We want to invest more in our development process... along with scripts, pilots for BBC Sounds and tasters, we're going to double the number of half hour pilots that we make and they will all be non-TX."

He also revealed: "We will be investing an extra £10 million over the next two years. This will enable more ambitious pieces. ... More than anything else we want shows that connect with our audience - whether they're big and broad or weird and provocative. Worlds that the audience can see themselves in often connect in the deepest way ... shows that feel uniquely British."

News relevant to comedy creators includes:

BBC Comedy Bursary Collective

The BBC confirms it will be reopening submissions for its existing writing bursaries this year, plus launching brand new producer and director bursaries, now all under a BBC Comedy Bursary Collective. Opening dates will be announced later this year, with more information about the producer and director scheme to be revealed tomorrow.

BBC Comedy Short Films

The BBC's existing short form strands (including Laugh Lessons, Threesomes and Quickies) will be merged to "create one streamlined and targeted approach to the development of our short-form comedy content".

The BBC explains: "Short Films are designed to give writers, producers, directors an opportunity to bring their comedy ideas to life and be showcased on BBC platforms.

"We're looking for standalone ideas that have a beginning middle and end. They should not be treated as pilots or sketches, but as self-contained, brilliantly funny, and original short films with the premium feel of the films that have inspired us on the festival circuit or Vimeo's Staff Picks. This new strand will showcase the best and most exciting comedy talent from around the UK."

Submissions will be open to UK-based production companies from 8th June. (Writers with an idea should find a production company to team up with, to send in a submission.)

BBC Comedy + BBC Sounds Comedy Pilots

BBC Comedy and BBC Sounds commissioning teams will work together to co-commission up to four audio comedy pilots.

They explain: "Our aim is to work with new and emerging performers on crafting comedy characters or personas that have the potential to be developed further for [o]BBC] Comedy and/or BBC Sounds.

"There is a well-established journey for talent from audio comedy to TV (The Boosh, Goodness Gracious Me, People Like Us). And characters that begin life in an ensemble show can grow into sitcom stalwarts, like Alan Partridge who first featured in Radio 4's On The Hour."

Production companies will be invited to submit formats from 8th June.

Pilots

The scripted comedy department also aims to double the number of pilots it produces each year. Under Petrie's plans, they will all be better funded, but not be intended for transmission.

He explained: "We want to show much less of our homework, allowing time and space to fail and for our new series to arrive as fully formed as possible. If, for whatever reason, your project doesn't work out with us, you will be able to find another home for it with a valuable piece of tape to help sell your idea, which won't feel spoilt from having been shown on TV or online, giving you the ultimate revenge when you win a BAFTA and can slag us off in your acceptance speech."

New shows

Petrie also outlined what his team is - and isn't - looking to put on screen.

"So, what are we looking for? More than anything else we want shows that connect with our audience - whether they're big and broad or weird and provocative. 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!

"It's probably worth mentioning things lower down on the BBC Comedy Wishlist. At this moment, we are well served for comedy drama, comedy thriller, and sketch shows, but we totally understand you might want to send to us anyway, and don't let us stop you. Just be aware that we get sent them a lot and opportunities are currently more limited in these areas."


Petrie also used his speech to announce a number of TV commissions, including a new series of Bad Education and a Detectorists special.

Read Jon Petrie's speech in full

Update: The 'Meet the Commissioners' session revealed that BBC Comedy is changing the way it is commissioning shows, and outlined what kinds of ideas the corporation is looking for in pitches. Commissioning report

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