BBC drama chief unveils new shows

John Lennon biopic, Idris Elba cop drama among series

LONDON -- BBC drama boss Ben Stephenson on Wednesday announced a slew of big-name drama commissions but said the broadcaster would have to ax several long-running series to free up slots for a new generation of creative and adventurous fare.

Though he didn't give immediate details of which long-running shows could face cancellation, Stephenson said the pubcaster was refocusing its drama output to reflect "Britain's most creative and exciting author-driven drama," rather than purely commercial fare that would bring in audiences.

"(The BBC) is the place where new and established writers can realize their most imaginative work," he said.

"Across our four channels, there are bold, modern new series and serials alongside unique and challenging single pieces," said Stephenson, highlighting forthcoming new pieces including a new BBC4 biopic "Lennon Naked" which stars Christopher Eccleston as the former Beatle and a new BBC1 police drama "Luther," starring Idris Elba ("The Wire").

The pubcaster may be moving away from the kind of costume drama adaptations that have become cliched, but it is still banking on big-name stars to pull in viewers.

Elsewhere on BBC1 this year, Billie Piper will play a young mother who falls in love with a Polish neighbor in postwar romantic saga "A Passionate Woman," scripted by Kay Mellor and Kenneth Branagh will front a new season of Scandinavian drama co-production "Wallender."

Minnie Driver, Goran Visnjic and James Nesbitt will front "The Deep," a five-part thriller set thousands of feet below the arctic ice, and the long-awaited Alan Bleasdale-scriped "Laconia" about the sinking of a British warship in 1942 is expected to air.

As part of a season looking back at the social changes of the 1980s, the BBC is also adapting "Money," the genre-defining novel by Martin Amis, into a new series, while a romantic drama from writer Abi Morgan, "Royal Wedding" will tell the story of the fairytale wedding Princess Diana and Prince Charles viewed through the lives of a community in rural Wales.

The shift towards more contemporary fare comes as Stephenson completes his first year as head of commissioning drama across the BBC's four core TV networks. The pubcaster has been criticized by the BBC's oversight body, the BBC Trust, for lacking creative vision.