ITV sets up the sitcom `Babes'

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The Independent Online
THE ITV Network Centre has commissioned its first Christmas sitcom special, following criticism last week of its failure to develop good new comedy.

The BBC traditionally wipes the floor with ITV over the Christmas holiday period with specials of sitcom favouritessuch as Only Fools and Horses, Men Behaving Badly and One Foot in the Grave, but ITV will fight back this year with a new British comedy.

Unusually, the series chosen to fight the Yuletide battle hasn't yet been seen. It is still in production, and won't be broadcast until July. However, David Liddiment, ITV's director of programmes, is so confident of the show, he has pushed through plans to produce a high-profile Christmas special.

Described as "the British Friends", Babes in the Wood stars Samantha Janus, The Big Breakfast's Denise Van Outen and the newcomer Natalie Walters, as flatmates in St John's Wood. Karl Howman, a sitcom regular from the BBC's Eighties series Brush Strokes, plays their neighbour.

The sitcom's writer, Geoff Deane - a veteran of hits including Birds of a Feather - said that Babes in the Wood will be "the best new ITV sitcom since Rising Damp". Deane would not disclose details of his festive special, but said there would be plenty of surprises.

The programme was commissioned after a stern warning to ITV last week by the industry regulator, the Independent Television Commission, which issues broadcasting licences to ITV companies. The ITC concluded last week in its annual performance review of ITV that the channel had "failed to develop good new comedy".