BBC3 was once known for such shamelessly arresting titles as F*** Off I'm Fat- but can Danny Cohen's more considered approach to programming fare any better?
Commissioning Focus: BBC3 was once known for such shamelessly arresting titles as F*** Off I'm Fat - but can Danny Cohen's more considered approach to programming fare any better?

It is fitting that one of BBC3 controller Danny Cohen's first commissions since he took up his post in May is a sitcom called Coming of Age. When BBC3 launched in 2003 it rampaged around under Stuart Murphy like a kid on Ritalin, picking up ideas from here and there, hitting with some and missing with others.

Then, under the stewardship of Julian Bellamy, it went through its stroppy teenage phase when it said 'fuck' a lot and found man boobs funny (cue commissions like Fuck Off I'm Gingerand My Man Boobs). Now, Cohen would argue, is the phase when BBC3 really finds itself, settles down and becomes more considered and focused in its commissioning strategy.

Coming of Ageis a good example of Cohen's vision for the channel. It contains his essential three ingredients of raw talent (it's written by 19-year-old Tim Dawson), a subject matter relevant to late teens and early 20s, and is bold. 'It appealed to me because it's risky and it's written by and reflects the lives of our target audience. My ambition is that BBC3 will feel younger and I will push even harder in terms of innovation and risk,' he says.

Another new commission for which he has high hopes is The Wrong Door, a comedy which mixes CGI and sketch, due to air next year. He compares this commission to when he commissioned Fonejacker,which he describes as one of his best decisions on E4, as both shows 'feel and look different'.

As ITV2 controller Zai Bennett points out, despite some rating successes recently, BBC3 'has seemed to have a slightly 'scatter gun' approach to comedy'. His hope is that Cohen will 'address this and really concentrate on emerging talent'. Cohen's answer to improving consistency is that he plans to 'take what's great about BBC3, like its comedy reputation, and filter each programme idea to ensure it is getting a younger audience and taking risks'.

In the face of competition from the likes of ITV2 that, under Bennett, has committed to making half a dozen new comedy series next year, BBC3 wants to reclaim its territory as a breeding ground for comedic talent. It aims to sow the seeds for more comedies like Little Britainthat are nurtured on BBC3 before finding mainstream acclaim.

The channel's comedy strategy is part of a wider strategy, in Cohen's words, to 'build an entertainment story'. A brave move to this end is his desire to find a live comedy entertainment evening show, an idea now in development. 'British television lacks short-form opportunities for young comics and entertainers and performers to try out their trade. What shows like Friday Night Liveor The 11 O'Clock Showdid is provide platforms for people like Harry Enfield, Ben Elton, Ricky Gervais and Sacha Baron Cohen,' he says.

Similarly, Cohen's key ingredients for comedy and entertainment will also apply to drama and factual shows such as Last Man Standing(pictured). While he applauds the channel for commissioning programmes like Bodiesand Torchwood, he wants to improve the consistency and frequency of this type of quality drama. Next year, as well as there being much more drama on the schedule, the links between programmes will also be much stronger.

According to Cohen, 'the first stage in getting a consistent and original supply of drama on BBC3' is the commissioning of six new drama pilots, at least one of which will be turned into a series. These have been developed by and feature a lot of young talent and will transmit by the end of the year. One pilot is called Phoo Action, a live action animation about a kung fu crime fighter by Gorillaz creator Jamie Hewlett.

Having only been in the job four months, the channel doesn't yet reflect Cohen's influence. Next year will be crunch time for him as viewers will be able to see whether his big gambles on comedy and drama pay off. He, however, is confident that they will: 'I feel good about how the schedule is shaping up for next year. Come January/February next year, it will feel a bit more like my own.'

Schedule Slots

The Brief:
'To schedule bold, clear, youthful concepts which feel consistent across comedy, entertainment, drama and factual.'

BBC3 doesn't allocate specific time slots for certain genres. However, it is not planning to do much comedy pre-watershed - it is likely to air at 9pm, 10.30pm or 11pm. Broadly, BBC3's schedule can be carved up as follows:

10.30pm
This is BBC3's primetime: it marks the stage in the evening when young people are gaining more and more control of the remote. It's a key slot for comedy. 'At the moment we lack comedy that reflects the lives of our core audience of people in their early 20s,' says Cohen. He adds that the channel is short on studio-based programming and shows with 'a slightly lighter touch'. He warns against pitching comedy ideas based on stand-up, advising indies to think more about character-based ideas.

8.30pm
This is where the channel aims to play out most of its returning formats. 'This is an area we need to refresh as well,' says Cohen. Doctor Who Confidentialhas been a hit for the channel, but Cohen says that the commissioning team is going to be 'really careful' about the spin-offs it chooses. When it comes to drama, Cohen recommends 'thinking less about spin-offs from other dramas and more about original propositions'. The key elements of a successful drama pitch to BBC3 will be new talent, youth orientation, risk taking and consistency with the rest of the channel's output.

Coming Soon
Sitcom Coming of Ageabout a group of friends (6 x 30 minutes); The Wrong Door, a comedy mixing CGI and sketch; a live comedy entertainment show is in development for an evening/late-night slot; six new drama pilots will air by the end of the year including a programme called Being Humanabout a vampire, a ghost and a werewolf who live together; and sketch show Adam and Shelleystarts on 30 September.

BBC3 facts
Budget: £93.4m
Budget per hour: See www.bbc.co.uk/commissioning/tv/business/tariffs.shtml

What They Say
Andrew Spray, broadcast account director, media buyer PHD:'Whereas E4, More 4 and ITV2 have gone from strength to strength and have a clear identity, I don't know if BBC3 necessarily does. It's a chameleon in terms of what it offers.'

Graham Smith, controller of comedy and entertainment, Five:
'The challenge for BBC3 in working with good, young talent is that it's incredibly raw, so commissioners have to match that raw, new talent with someone who's got the experience.'

Saurabh Kakkar, controller of comedy, Granada:
'BBC3 is in a terrific position. It has grown organically and cleverly. Now Danny can look at the programmes and focus the channel more.'

Top-Rating BBC3 Comedies

Programme TX Audience Share (%)

GAVIN AND STACEY 13/05/2007 582,000 (2.90)
DROP DEAD GORGEOUS 25/06/2006 570,000 (4.11)
IDEAL 08/05/2007 523,000 (4.03) CHRISSYTITTYBANGBANG 25/12/2006 627,000 (4.47)
I'M WITH STUPID 17/09/2006 636,000 (4.06)
FAMILY GUY 07/08/2007 793,000 (5.85)

Source: BBC