BBC to invest £10m and double comedy pilots in bid to find next Fleabag | TV comedy

The BBC will double the number of half-hour comedy pilots it makes and invest an extra £10m in the genre in a bid to find the next Fleabag or Motherland.

Sharing plans for the future of comedy at the corporation, the director of BBC Comedy, Jon Petrie, said his department was investing in its “development process”.

“We want relatable British characters with an angle we’ve not seen before, and we want high joke rates,” Petrie said in a speech at the BBC Comedy festival in Newcastle on Wednesday. “We also want shows that talk to younger audiences.”

The Bafta-winning producer behind Stath Lets Flats and People Just Do Nothing said the broadcaster was looking for shows that connected with its audience, “whether they’re big and broad or weird and provocative”.

These audiences, he added, are drawn to worlds that they can see themselves in. “It’s no accident that it’s the family home and the workplace that have proved the most enduring settings for sitcoms,” he said.

“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!”

Motherland won the award for best scripted comedy at the TV Baftas last weekend. The London-set sitcom, co-written by Sharon Horgan and starring Anna Maxwell Martin, follows a group of parents and their everyday challenges at the school gates.

“Motherland has now reached 25% of the population across its three series to date,” Petrie said. “Then there’s the runaway success, Ghosts, which shows the evergreen quality of comedy, as audiences continue to seek it out on iPlayer. The first episode of series one has been watched by 11.5 million to date.

“But it’s not just viewing figures. iPlayer is full of critical successes like Inside No. 9, In My Skin and Alma’s Not Normal. Authored pieces that empower talent to tell stories they care about and shows I am incredibly proud to inherit.”

Over half of all BBC comedy viewing now comes from iPlayer directly. Last year, iPlayer broadcast over 6bn requests with 538m of those for comedy shows.

Petrie said the new pilots “will be better funded, and they will all be non-TX. 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.”

It comes as the BBC announced a host of new comedy programming, including the return of hit sitcom Bad Education, which will see Jack Whitehall reprise his role as teacher Alfie Wickers.

The show, which ran from 2012 to 2014, will be rebooted as a six-part series for its 10th anniversary. Whitehall said he is “so pumped” to return to the “show that launched my career”.

The Bafta-winning comedy Detectorists will also return after a five-year break for a 75-minute special, while actor and comedian Mawaan Rizwan has had a comedy, Juice, commissioned for a six-part series after a successful pilot episode.

Jack Carroll and Tom Gregory have written a new comedy short for BBC Three titled Mobility, and popular comedy shows Jerk, The Cleaner and Guilt have all been given further series.

BBC Comedy and BBC Sounds are also working together to commission four audio comedy pilots.

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