America snaps up Channel 4's surprise artistic hit

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The Independent Online

With its genteel formula of amateur art, eye-catching scenery and good-natured competitiveness, Channel 4's Watercolour Challenge has earned a loyal following among daytime television audiences.

Now the surprise hit has been sold to the United States and the search is on for someone to front the programme who is capable of matching the appeal of its British presenter, Hannah Gordon.

The PBS public broadcasting network hopes to find someone in the same mould as Gordon, who appeals both to older men and students. She is credited with winning daytime audiences peaking at 1.5 million viewers.

Carlton, which owns the show, said producers were searching for a "mature, graceful" female host and were considering the former Dynasty star Linda Evans, The Partridge Family's Shirley Jones and Vanna White, host of The Wheel of Fortune.

Known as "Masterchef for amateur artists", Watercolour Challenge brings together members of the public or celebrities who compete to produce the best painting, often in an idyllic setting.

In Britain, celebrities including Anneka Rice, Julia MacKenzie and Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, have all taken part.

The programme has visited some of the country's most scenic locations and has even ventured abroad for the finals. Winners of each show receive artist's supplies, while the overall winner for each series has won a painting holiday with an expert. The top paintings from the series have also appeared in two exhibitions at the Mall Galleries in London and in Watercolour Challenge books.

The show's popularity also boosted the career of Gordon, who has featured in more than 20 films including Watership Down and the 1970s television series Upstairs, Downstairs and My Wife Next Door. She is currently starring in My Fair Lady in the West End of London.

The format was devised and originally produced by the Carlton-owned Planet 24 for Channel 4, which screened it for four seasons between 1998 and 2001 and is currently showing repeats.

Watercolour Challenge was created by Planet 24's managing director, Ed Forsdick, who came up with the idea while taking a bath in an American hotel. He said: "If Watercolour Challenge has the same success in the US that it has here, it could really take off worldwide. It would be great fun to see Hannah lookalikes hosting the show in the same way that Anne Robinson was cloned for international versions of The Weakest Link."

The American company WGBH intends to recreate the show for PBS as a co- production with the US-based Carlton Productions LLC.

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