Sky's High on Original Commissions

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BSkyB’s recent drive to convert stubborn non-paying viewers into subscription spectators has been two-pronged. Launching Sky Atlantic and buying up HBO’s entire back (and forward) catalogue was the network’s boldest and most expensive audience grab. But the broadcaster is also spending time and serious money building its stable of impressively cast, original British dramas--from the popular, generally well received Strike Back, to the disastrous Bedlam.

And BSkyB’s not done wooing us with its big name fiction. This week, new sitcom Trollied premieres on Sky1. Jane Horrocks plays Julie, the disgruntled acting deputy manager of a supermarket in the northwest. Despite the clichéd premise (alas, we weren't to see a preview), having Horrocks in the lead role will lure a healthy audience. This seems to be Sky’s plan: get a great cast in place and worry about everything else later. You can’t imagine this broadcaster taking a punt on unknowns for its fictional forays, even if a fabulous script called out for them. And so, everyone’s must-have actress, Ruth Jones, will star in its soon-to-be-hyped comedy drama Stella. Upcoming show Sinbad, meanwhile, stars Lost's Naveen Andrews in the lead role.

BSkyB’s most exciting drama commission is Hit and Miss, a six-part series that will air next year. Mia (Big Love’s brilliant Chloe Sevigny) is a pre-op transsexual who’s also a contract killer. When she discovers that she fathered a child by a former lover who’s now dying of cancer, Mia makes her way to a west Yorkshire. As you do. It’s sounds epically nuts but Sevigny’s involvement, and the fact that its writer/creator is Shameless’ Paul Abbott, means there’s a reasonable chance it’ll be something a bit special.

Check the BSkyB’s website and you’ll notice that these are just some its up-coming original series. The network is going all out to define itself as the new go-to broadcaster for quality fiction. If the terrestrial channels aren’t shuddering at the very real possibility that Sky will pull off its plan, then they should be. BBC1 controller Danny Cohen has already talked openly about being priced out of the acquisitions market. The BBC--and to some degree the other terrestrial broadcasters--simply don’t seem ready to do battle with the pay-TV behemoth.

Having bowed out of the glossy buy-ins game, the Beeb is hoping that its original dramas (which still clobber Sky's offerings in terms of quality, though the gap is narrowing), plus those fancy, high-budget US/UK co-productions, will keep viewers interested. But let’s not forget that HBO is also doing business with Sky now (the second series of Strike Back is a joint venture). Could that mean the BBC, despite its gravitas, will come to be seen as a poorer, fustier and less appealing partner? Whatever the case, with BSkyB staking out and buying up TV territory, everyone else needs to up their game.

Do you rate Sky's original dramas? Which of its new series are you most likely to watch?

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