Financial crisis halts BBC series

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The Independent Online
A £1m documentary about Alexander the Great has been halted on the eve of production by the BBC's financial crisis.

The final decision on a 12-month postponement of the four-part series, due to be presented by Michael Wood and broadcast on BBC1 later this year, will be made next week.

However, senior programme makers fear the worst and believe other projects are under threat. The root of the problem, senior corporation sources say, is an undertaking it gave the Government last year to wipe out its borrowing requirement - £80m last month - by the end of next year.

They say the pledge, made to help with charter renewal, was unnecessary and brought intolerable pressure on budgets. A moratorium has been placed on all commissioning of new work as channel controllers are forced to use up stock. In some cases existing commissions are being deferred until next year. New factual programming and drama, particularly single drama, are expected to be worst hit.

Senior programme makers are furious there is not a similar hold on capital expenditure, currently including the building of a £3.5m conference facility at the Wood Norton training centre in the Midlands and a £1.5m refurbishment of the BBC television centre's reception.

A senior source said the corporation should be concerned with programmes, not buildings. "As a viewer, you will see a thinner mix of programmes, a much narrower range of output and probably more repeats. A lot of the programmes that have been planned will go to the competition and hit us as incoming fire. It's a creative disaster."

Will Wyatt, managing director of BBC network television, said last night that the moratorium was "prudent cash management", adding: "I do not expect this to affect plans for programmes in the coming year or for viewers to notice any effects on screen." Single drama is expected to bear the burden of drama department cuts. A senior source said George Faber, single drama head, would be under intense pressure to honour commitments, spanning films, studio plays and the fostering of new writing talent.

Biggest question marks are thought to hang over the Screen One and Screen Two seasons.

Drama series will be unaffected this year, but there are fears that the commissioning freeze will leave "holes" in 1996.

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