Arts: BBC's cheapest ever comedy

With jaw-dropping candour the producer of an experimental new BBC comedy series has admitted that the "potential for the show to be terrible is great."

He was talking about Comedy Nation, a weird programme shot on hand-held videos that is a cross between BBC 2's public access slot Video Nation and a traditional sketch show. If it is terrible it will be fortunate because it is likely to be the cheapest comedy show ever broadcast by the BBC.

Comedy Nation will air at midnight on Friday for half an hour for 13 weeks. It cost just pounds 29,000 per episode to produce, compared with more than pounds 200,000 per episode for shows like The Fast Show.

"In exchange for having no money the executives have said we can have carte blanche," says co-producer Phil Clarke. "We don't have to go upstairs and ask permission for anything. At that time of night we can be rude if we want and we can get things on TV that wouldn't normally make it."

The writers and performers of the show come from all parts of the comedy world. The only criteria being they have do something different and they have to work for the Equity minimum.

There will be 30 sketches per show crammed into the half hour with as many writers and performers contributing as possible. "People will look at them and wonder what the hell we are doing. Some of it is very odd," Mr Clarke said.

The idea behind the show is for the BBC to trawl the massive reservoir of comedy writing talent in Britain to see what new stars it can come up with. "There is every reason why it could be very good, given its budget," said Mr Clarke. "But the potential to be terrible is great. But unless it was this cheap we wouldn't get to do it."

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