Good show: Chase creates English 'Clone'

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Adam Chase is back at it. The former "Friends" executive producer begins filming today on his new comedy series "Clone," which is directed by "The King of Queens" alum Rob Schiller.

What's wrong with this picture? Well, "Clone" is a British show shot in London for BBC3.

With British scripted formats invading the U.S. market in the wake of the success of "The Office," Chase went against the current, creating a show for the U.K.

"Clone" is a multicamera sci-fi comedy with single-camera and greenscreen elements. It stars Jonathan Pryce as a scientist who creates the first human clone. Intended to be a prototype supersoldier, the doctor quickly realizes his creation is more likely to hug someone than shoot them.

"Clone" is described as a fish-out-of-water tale, and that's exactly what Americans Chase and Schiller are in the British TV industry.

Chase's only British production experience was filming the two-part London episode of "Friends."

"I'd been thinking about doing a sci-fi comedy for a while but was concerned about getting it through the American development process," said Chase, who grew up with genre-mixing British fare like Monty Python. " 'Clone' is extremely violent; people die every week. Audiences (in the U.K.) are very sophisticated, and they have no problem switching form genre to genre."

A couple of years ago, Chase met Ash Atalla, producer of the British version of "The Office," when they served as judges on a sitcom-writing competition on BBC3. Chase shared his idea for "Clone," and Atalla quickly came aboard.

After letting it percolate for a while, Chase set out in summer 2007 to write it as a spec. He rented a one-bedroom apartment in London and penned the script in 2 1/2 months.

He and Atalla sent it to several networks; a couple were interested, and BBC3 offered a series order.

"It was a dream come true," Chase said. "Then I saw the budget. Here you get amazing creative freedom and a tiny budget."

The BBC commissioned the series for what is said to be $500,000 an episode — less than a third of what a similar show would cost in the U.S. The money is transferred upfront, and there no overages are tolerated.

Schiller said he initially was shocked by the budget constraints but adjusted and even found a silver lining.

"It's good as it makes us lean and mean, thinking twice about what we do," he said.

"Clone" has only one 12-hour day onstage per episode for blocking, rehearsal and taping — something done in the U.S. over three to four days. Chase and Schiller found themselves extensively prepping — writing and rewriting every scene and storyboarding every shot.

During production, the actors rehearse in a church, and the writers do rewrites in a room next to the soup kitchen.

"There's a sign outside the entrance of the kitchen that says, 'Please don't use the yard as a lavatory,' " Chase said. "I don't walk through the yard anymore."

One good piece of news is that in the U.K., most TV shows pay talent little money. And with short orders of six to seven episodes, feature stars are willing to do them. That's how Chase was able to land Pryce.

For "Clone," Chase employed the American writers room model. His team consisted of five scribes: two Yanks, including old "Friends" pal Alexa Junge, and three Brits. That number has dropped to two part-timers during production.

Chase follows in the footsteps of former "Seinfeld" executive producer Fred Barron, who created the long-running BBC sitcom "My Family," which also uses the writers room model. Additionally, veteran sitcom producer Caryn Mandabach opened shop in the U.K. several years ago and is producing projects for BBC and ITV.

The BBC, which has a 25% quota for indie producers, recently opened its doors to outsiders even further with the implementation of Window of Creative Competition, a program reserving another 25% of BBC's programming real estate for anybody with an idea.

U.S. writers might get attracted by the prospect of getting paid in British pounds. With the dollar sliding against the pound, "I've got a de facto raise," Chase quipped.

Chase is looking to one day do a U.S. version of "Clone."

With the heat surrounding British formats, that might come soon. In fact, Chase recalls a tip by a Hollywood agent: "The shortest route to get to American TV is to produce for British television."

The work on "Clone" has taught Chase a thing or two about the U.K. TV business, including, "People are really polite when they give you bad news," and "They really like to stop for tea at 4 p.m."

But most of all, "we take a lot of things for granted in an American production," Chase says. "Bottom line, I've leaned how to produce a show of equal quality for a lot less money." (partialdiff)
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