HOLLYWOOD -- Could it be another British invasion?
The British Broadcasting Corp. has long been an idea factory for American TV producers, dating back to that United Kingdom export Til Death Do Us Part, recast for U.S. audiences as All In the Family. But the BBC has been particularly busy in recent months, scripting itself as a bigger player in Hollywood, hoping to wring more money from its concepts and programs.
BBC Worldwide Limited, the commercial arm of the venerable network, sold CBS an idea for an unscripted show called Sack Race, in which a contestant spends a day at work trying to get fired. The unit also recently hooked ABC with a pitch for a dating show, Nice Package.
Plans are in the offing to launch a 24-hour BBC cable news channel in the United States. And BBC executives last week entertained movie executives at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles to angle for a distributor for their feature-length ocean documentary, The Blue Planet.
And while most Hollywood honchos were off celebrating America's Fourth of July declaration of independence from England, the Brits were busy putting the final touches on a TV development deal with Universal Television and producer Ben Silverman.
"We really want to get ourselves into a position where we provide more of the programming of broadcasters' schedules," said Mark Young, president and chief executive of BBC Worldwide Americas. "We've changed our strategy from being an exporter of British programming into being a creator of global programs."
The BBC already has built a presence around the globe. Its news and entertainment channels reach more than 500 million homes in Latin America, Africa, Australia, Europe and Asia.
Now, BBC Worldwide is aggressively making inroads in the United States, hoping to capitalize on its increasing profile.
Five years ago, a dozen public television stations in the United States carried BBC's World News program. Now, it's on more than 225 stations nationwide.
In the days leading up to the Iraqi war, more than a million U.S. homes tuned in to the nightly BBC newscasts. In May, after major combat was declared over, viewership averaged nearly 900,000 homes -- a more than 20 percent increase from the previous year.
Executives said the recent controversy surrounding the BBC's reporting about the British government's use of intelligence to make the case for a war in Iraq, and the subsequent suicide of one of the network's key government sources, has not dampened expansion plans.
BBC Worldwide this month reported a record year, with sales topping $1 billion and profits of more than $50 million. Sales in the United States exceeded $160 million last year.
BBC executives' appetite for more American dollars was whetted four years ago after watching the U.S. version of the British game show Who Wants to Be A Millionaire, explode on ABC. Although the BBC did not own the rights to that program, it saw the potential and quickly offered up The Weakest Link and other shows that have gone on to success in the United States.
Now, one of the most popular programs on cable's TLC is the home design show Trading Spaces, a takeoff of the BBC's Changing Rooms. TLC also duplicated the BBC's What Not to Wear, a critique of fashion faux pas.
But the BBC's biggest marketing weapon in the United States has been its nascent BBC America cable channel.
BBC America, launched five years ago by the Discovery Networks, has watched its ratings and ad revenues swell. Available through satellite and digital cable service, BBC America reaches 35 million homes, up from 28 million homes a year ago.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.