BSkyB Ramps Up Spending on U.K. Original Dramas

3:40 AM PST 09/17/2013 by George Szalai
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Ben Whishaw

The British pay TV company orders four new programs, including Showtime co-production "Penny Dreadful" and a heist film with former "Doctor Who" star Billie Piper and "Skyfall"'s Ben Whishaw.

LONDON – Reiterating its commitment to original British productions, BSkyB on Tuesday unveiled four new dramas to be filmed in the coming months.

The shows ordered include medical drama Critical, which will air on flagship channel Sky 1; two new films for the Playhouse Presents... series of the U.K. pay TV giant's Sky Arts network; and star-studded Showtime psychological thriller Penny Dreadful, which BSkyB said Monday it was joining as a co-producer.

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"All four feature some of the most highly respected drama talent working in television today, both on and off screen, including Josh Hartnett, Ben Whishaw, Billie Piper, Eva Green, Ashley Walters and Rory Kinnear," said BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's 21st Century Fox owns a 39 percent stake.

The new programs are part of BSkyB’s commitment to invest $955 million (£600 million) annually in homegrown content by 2014, an increase of 50 percent over three years.

The 13-episode Critical is described as a "high-octane medical drama" from Jed Mercurio (Bodies, Line of Duty), which unfolds in real time.

The Playhouse Presents... films are Foxtrot, with former Doctor Who star Piper, Skyfall's Whishaw and Lindsay Duncan in a story of a gang heist gone wrong, and Nightshift, with Walters and Daniel Mays as two cops on duty overnight in South East London, discussing life and the universe. Foxtrot is written by young playwright Polly Stenham in her first TV project.

Penny Dreadful will air on Sky Atlantic, which shows such U.S. hit dramas as Game of Thrones. It is a psychological period horror drama with Green, Hartnett, Timothy Dalton, Kinnear and Piper.

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"We're so happy with the dramas we’ve made so far, and I hope our new programs will underline how much we put a premium on creative endeavor at Sky," said Stuart Murphy, director of Sky Entertainment. "We really believe that our philosophy of backing world-class creative talent and pushing them to make their best work is the way to go."

Cameron Roach, head of drama, added: "We love making these programs, and we hope that everyone who watches them feels like they’ve discovered something new, exciting and very special."

The new drama orders follow a host of previously announced original BSkyB productions that will debut in the coming months. Among them are The Tunnel for the Sky Atlantic network, which is based on Danish format The Bridge and set against the backdrop of Europe in crisis; Dracula for Sky Living, starring Jonathan Rhys Myers; Fleming on Sky Atlantic, starring Dominic Cooper as James Bond creator Ian Fleming; and the return of A Young Doctor’s Notebook, starring Daniel Radcliffe and Jon Hamm.

E-mail: Georg.Szalai@THR.com
Twitter: @georgszalai

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