Ten months into his new job, Piers Wenger, Controller of BBC Drama, unveiled his vision for the department on Thursday night in London, with an ambitious slate to boot including a three-part series of Little Women with Playground and PBS’ Masterpiece, a Stephen Frears-directed drama A Very English Scandal and an original series with Netflix dubbed Giri/Haji.
Wenger, who took one of the most prestigious jobs in the world of TV drama last June, announced that more than 47 hours of new original drama has been commissioned. Director-General Tony Hall was also in attendance to lift the curtain on the new slate.
Prior to the event, Wenger spoke to Deadline about his vision for BBC Drama saying that it would be built upon two pillars: It will be less bound by conventions of genre, slot and channel when considering new work and also will have “Britishness” at the heart of all of its shows.
“I would like BBC drama to be the antithesis of this algorithmic approach to commissioning,” Wenger told Deadline. “It feels like a reductive approach to me and I want us to make our decisions based on an instinct of ideas. The biggest risks deliver the biggest hits and we’re here to be an antidote to commercial broadcasting with risky commissions.”
He added: “I want to invest more in the restless curiosity of the UK creative sector in a world where there are more buyers than there has ever been. That landscape is key – I want Britishness to be at the heart of all the shows that we commission because that strong flavour of British individuality gives us a voice internationally but also ensures that we’ll be distinct and different.”
And emerging writers will also play a key role in the new shape of the department going forward, says Wenger, who added that taking a punt on new writers sits to the Beeb’s advantage.
These pillars shine through in the raft of new commissions. As mentioned, there’s an adaptation of Little Women, based on the Louisa May Alcott classic. The three-part BBC One adaptation is co-produced with Masterpiece on PBS and produced by Susie Liggat. Playground’s Colin Callendar and Sophie Gardiner will exec produce with Heidi Thomas (creator of Call the Midwife) and Lucy Richer for the BBC and Rebecca Eaton for Masterpiece.
Frears will direct a three-part BBC One drama A Very English Scandal, based on the shocking true story of the first British politician to stand trial for conspiracy and incitement to murder. Blueprint Pictures produces.
There’s also an original eight-part series for Netflix called Giri/Haji, from Humans writer Joe Barton which follows a middle-aged Tokyo detective who travels to London in search of his wayward younger brother believed to be posing as a Yakuza gangster. Jane Featherstone’s Sister Pictures produces, with the series set air on BBC One while Netflix will stream globally outside of the UK.
Additional new commissions include:
- The War of the Worlds, a 3×60 series for BBC One produced by Mammoth Screen and written by Doctor Who scribe Peter Harness. Filming is set to begin in 2018 for the first British TV adaptation of H.G. Wells’ epic novel.
- Informer, a 6×60 contemporary thriller from new writers Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani. It follows a young, second generation Pakistani man from East London who is coerced by a Counter-Terrorism officer to go undercover and inform for him. Neal Street produces for BBC One.
- Black Narcissus, a three-part BBC One adaptation of Rumer Godden’s iconic tale of sexual repression and forbidden love, written by Amanda Coe. DNA Films produces with Tom Winchester.
- Come Home, a 3×60 emotional family drama from screenwriter Danny Brocklehurst set in Northern Ireland exec produced by Red Production Company’s Nicola Shindler.
- Summer of Rockets, Stephen Poliakoff’s six-part semi-autobiographical series for BBC Two, produced by Little Island Productions and set in the UK during the Cold War period.
- Overshadowed, an eight-part short-form series based on Eva O’Connor’s award-winning play about a young girl whose life spirals out of control when she meets the monster of anorexia personified. It’s produced by Rollem Productions.
In addition to the new commissions, Wenger unveiled a new structure to his commissioning team with new writer initiatives, which he said would help “deliver a better service to writers and producers.”
“My new structure has bolstered the commission team to ensure greater plurality of taste and vision; they are the tastemakers who have the right palate to champion creative risks and diverse ideas,” he said. “They will also better reflect our commitment across the UK as it’s the first time we will have Commissioners with a dedicated role in each nation who are there to improve portrayal and grow sustainable drama bases.”
The key team is as follows:
- Lucy Richer has been appointed Senior Commissioning Editor, England.
- Elizabeth Kilgarriff made Senior Commissioning Editor, England and Scotland, taking an expanded role for Scotland as well as England.
- Gaynor Holmes becomes Commissioning Executive for Scotland, based in Scotland, reporting to Kilgarriff.
- Mona Qureshi, former Co-Head of Development at The Ink Factory, joins the BBC as Commissioning Editor for England.
- Christopher Aird appointed Commissioning Editor, Wales and Continuing Drama.
- Tommy Bulfin joins the BBC as Commissioning Editor, Northern Ireland from New Pictures
- Ben Irving hired in the newly created role of Head of Drama Development. He joins from David Heyman’s Heyday Films, where he was a Development Executive.
- Anne Edyvean will become the New Writing Associate, Drama and continues as Head of the BBC Writersroom.