BBC and Granada link for US venture

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The Independent Online
THE BBC and Granada, Britain's two biggest television programme makers, agreed yesterday to join forces in a bid to sell more programming to the US, the biggest TV market.

BBC Worldwide, the broadcaster's commercial arm, and Granada Media have set up a joint venture, GB Productions, to develop US versions of British situation comedies and dramas.

In the past this strategy has delivered mixed results. By far the biggest British crossover hit to sweep America was All in the Family in the 1970s. Carol O'Connor, the US actor, immortalised the role of Archie Bunker, the family bigot, mirroring Warren Mitchell's portrayal of Alf Garnett in Till Death Us Do Part.

Since then failure in exporting programmes has been the norm. In 1997 the US version of Cracker, named Fitz, co-produced by Granada and ABC, was pulled in mid-run after being scheduled against Seinfeld.

The joint venture will be led by Scott Siegler, president of Granada's US arm set up in Los Angeles in 1997.

In April Chris Smith, Secretary for Culture, Media and Sport, set up an inquiry into overseas sales of British TV programmes after a report that the UK trade deficit in programmes widened to pounds 272m in 1997. The short run length of British series and difficulty of US viewers understanding regional accents were blames for the poor overseas sales record.

The deal will strain the alliance of ITV broadcasters, BSkyB and cable companies, which has criticised proposals last week seeking to allow the BBC to charge licence fee payers pounds 24 extra for digital services.

A Granada spokeswoman denied there was any inconsistency in forming a pact with the BBC.

"In the UK, the BBC is seen as a commercial competitor," she said. "This is about growth and commercial development in America. It makes sense to offer the best of British programming to the American market."