BBC to produce US versions of hit shows

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The Independent Online

The BBC has signed a deal with Universal Studios to produce American versions of successful British comedies and dramas for screening on US television.

The agreement, announced yesterday, will lead to British producers going to the United States to work with American casts and make up to six new shows a year.

The BBC series Coupling, which starred This Life actor Jack Davenport and was itself partly based on the NBC show Friends, will be the first to receive an American makeover.

BBC Worldwide hopes that the projects will be as successful as previous ventures such as Sanford and Son (the American version of Steptoe and Son) and Cosby, which starred Bill Cosby but was based on the format of One Foot in the Grave.

The two-year deal has been signed with Reveille, Universal's film and television production arm. The BBC already has an arrangement with the American William Morris Agency to produce versions of its reality and game shows in the US.

William Morris has signed deals to pilot three BBC shows this year, including the sale to CBS of The Sack Race, in which employees are filmed trying to get themselves fired before 3pm on their first day at work. The format for the dating show Nice Package has also been sold to ABC.

BBC exports to America rose 25 per cent to £91m last year. BBC Worldwide contributed £120m to BBC coffers in the last financial year, compared with £106m in the previous 12 months. The BBC is in negotiations over sales of an American format of The Office, which is being shown on BBC America and has impressed the critics.