BSkyB Comedy Head Sees More Room for Original Comedies at Pay TV Giant

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Lucy Lumsden talks about the current comedy renaissance in the U.K. as Chris O'Dowd presents his new series "Moone Boy."

LONDON - Lucy Lumsden, the first-ever BSkyB head of comedy and former BBC head of comedy commissioning, said here Tuesday night that the U.K. pay TV giant is excited about the prospect of adding to the stable of successful original comedies she has launched.

During an event at the BFI Southbank, she also reiterated that BSkyB is looking to bring comedy to other networks beyond Sky 1, which is currently its original comedy home.

The evening event later also saw comedian Chris O'Dowd (Bridesmaids) and Sally Philips and their writers present their upcoming new Sky comedies Moone Boy and Parents. 
O'Dowd co-wrote and stars in Moone Boy as the imaginary friend of a school boy. The series has already been picked up for a second season.

Since joining pay TV giant BSkyB, in which Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. owns a 39 percent stake, in 2009, Lumsden has had success with such Sky 1 comedies as Spy, Stella, The Cafe and Trollied to add scripted comedy to supplement the channel's game show lineup.

On Tuesday, she acknowledged that comedy seems to work for audiences in a time of continued economic uncertainties. 

And with no real comedy failures yet and shows returning for more episodes, Lumsden said her initial slate surely "landed well," with room to do more comedic programming at BSkyB. 

She told the audience that she particularly wants to "do an audience sitcom next." After all, "we got a solid foundation now." 

While she didn't detail any new programming plans, she said "we are looking at Seinfeld as a model" for that audience sitcom, vowing to look for great talent rather than writers first and casting later. 

Beyond Sky 1, she said BSkyB is now also opening up other networks for comedy. Sky Living, for example, is a channel that presents an opportunity to provide "more fun with female leads," Lumsden said. And
Sky Atlantic is the best place for "our best comic authors," she added. And Sky Arts can be an outlet for comedies as well.

She mentioned that the company is already developing comedy projects for those channels as previously announced.

Asked about reports that BSkyB's spending on comedy is expected to increase to close to the BBC's £60 million ($75 million) budget a year, Lumsden said "they never tell me such things." 

Is big talent always key for Sky comedies, she was asked amid big-name talent. "I think it is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle," she said. "We did that with some, but not others."

 Sky Atlantic may provide a way in the future to do 10-minute content offers to help look for the next generation of character comics, Lumsden said.

Asked if there was a broader-based comedy renaissance, Lumsden said that with BSkyB now in the comedy game, "it suddenly opens up all sorts of opportunities." She said though it was key to focus on calculated risks. "We need to not make the mistake to think that we must try everything," she said.

Asked what she was looking for in Sky comedies, Lumsden said they must appeal to a broad audience, but also have "something different - that little extra twist or spark with casting or writing," she said. 

She said she started thinking that shows should be "reflecting modern Britain," in addition to Sky's U.S. acquisitions, which provide a window on America. Plus, "love is at the heart of all our shows," with a return to family relationships being key, Lumsden said when asked how the recession and social trends have played into her plans.

Overall, Lumsden said she loved that at Sky, she didn't have to replace another executive. After the BBC, "it did feel very free to not have the weight of legacy," she said.

Also, unlike the "bit passive" approach at the BBC, she said she had to land projects quickly at Sky. "I sort of knew who I'd want to work with" and just talked straight to talent, she said. 

On Tuesday, she recalled how a BBC colleague had said when she announced her departure: "You'll never be at the awards, because it's Sky."

 But BSkyB CEO Jeremy Darroch and others told her not "to fear failure," promising money and "immense freedom," she said.

The writers and stars of the two new Sky comedies screened Tuesday night told a crowd that they feel they are edgy family comedies, which they hope can follow U.S. hit sitcoms. Ireland's O'Dowd said his comedy not only was partly filmed in his hometown Boyle, but also has other parallels to his life. "It's set in a very similar world I grew up in," he said before quipping: "Ironically, there is hardly any imagination involved."


Twitter: @georgszalai