U.K.'s Channel 4 Turns to International Co-Productions

Danny Boyle London Red Carpet - P 2012
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Danny Boyle London Red Carpet - P 2012

The British broadcaster will continue to invest in homegrown original programming and carry on buying international shows, including U.S. fare, but will aim to mount "high quality, ambitious" dramas with overseas partners.

LONDON – British broadcaster Channel 4 is aiming to branch out into international drama co-productions as part of a new strategy, and has created a head of international drama post to help lead the charge.

The U.K.'s commercial network will continue to invest in homegrown original programming and carry on buying international shows, including U.S. fare such as upcoming FX drama Fargo, a show inspired by the Coen brothers' film of the same name, but will broaden its ambitions to work with international partners on big dramas.

Channel 4 head of drama Piers Wenger will oversee the expansion with British indie guru Simon Maxwell, in the newly created role of head of international drama, reporting to him.

Maxwell will be tasked with commissioning a slate of "high quality, ambitious" drama co-productions that "embody Channel 4’s distinctive values and have international appeal."

The undisclosed boost in investment in original drama co-productions will complement the broadcaster's slate of homegrown drama.

Channel 4 said the expansion will not mean taking cash from the homegrown drama budget; that will remain unchanged.

The 2014-15 year will see original dramas from a mix of new and established British talent, including Russell T Davies, Dennis Kelly, Jack Thorne, Paul Abbott, Abi Morgan, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong and DC Moore, as well as a single film from Channel 4’s new writing talent scheme, Coming Up.

The new co-production slate aims "to bring international talent and their stories to Channel 4 and will also give British writers, directors and producers an international platform," according to the company.

Wenger said bold, distinctive drama is part of Channel 4’s DNA, citing original commissions Babylon and Utopia and acquired shows including Homeland and The Returned.

"This new additional slate of international co-productions will sit alongside both, adding breadth to our offering whilst also giving the opportunity for Channel 4 original drama to reach an international audience," Wenger said.

He said Maxwell's appointment is "a significant step" in ensuring that Channel 4’s distinctive values are at the heart of all of our co-productions.

Maxwell joins Channel 4 from Germany's Red Arrow Entertainment where, as head of drama and comedy, he launched the Red Arrow Group’s U.K. scripted operation. 

Maxwell's résumé includes developing and producing drama for the international market, as well as work on projects such as Odyssey for NBC and Hannibal for the History Channel.

Maxwell also co-wrote and exec produced the movie Killing Bono.

"These are exciting times for television drama -- never has the standard of storytelling been so high or the spirit of creative collaboration been so strong," said Maxwell.

Channel 4 is a not-for-profit organization so all returns from the investment in co-productions will be used to further invest in programs "for the benefit of its audiences."

Rival U.K. broadcasters, including the BBC, ITV and pay-TV operators BSkyB, all use international co-productions to mount drama projects to fill schedules and attract audiences.

The recently introduced high-end tax relief system for television also will be a boost to the drama sector.