Green Light for Red Light comedy at Five

It's time to get serious - about laughs. The channel's humour supremo talks to Ian Burrell
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The Independent Online

So, the infamous "three Fs" recipe (films, football and late-night soft porn) that formed the schedule of Britain's youngest terrestrial channel, Five, might have been on the right track after all - with just a little tweak.

So, the infamous "three Fs" recipe (films, football and late-night soft porn) that formed the schedule of Britain's youngest terrestrial channel, Five, might have been on the right track after all - with just a little tweak.

The new Five chief executive, Jane Lighting, has changed the third ingredient to "funny", and given Graham Smith, the man who brought us Spaced and The Mark Thomas Comedy Project, the task of making comedy an intrinsic part of the channel. The beauty of Smith's position is that he is working not just for Five but also for the digital channel Paramount, which will share the cost of his salary and the projects he commissions.

Smith says his "core work" will be identifying new sitcoms. He already has a list of 19 projects, one of which will air in the autumn with a further two going into development in 2006. The comedy will be more sophisticated than some might expect of Five, and Smith is looking for work that captures the "modern, smart, edgy" feel of shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm, Spaced and The Office.

He is developing a comedy script with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh and has also persuaded the comedy writer and producer Harry Thompson ( Monkey Dust, Have I Got News For You, Never Mind the Buzzcocks), and Thompson's writing partner Shaun Pye, to produce a brothel-based sitcom script provisionally titled Red Light.

Meanwhile, The Office's Mackenzie Crook has just submitted a "very funny" script called Access All Areas, billed as a behind-the-scenes look at the world of rock'n'roll. Alison Jackson (of the look-alikes show Double Take) has also submitted a project, called Under Number 10. It is based on the lives of the staff at Downing Street and, Smith says, recalls both Sebastian, the government adviser in love with the Prime Minister in Little Britain, and the below-stairs tensions of Upstairs Downstairs.

Also registering on Smith's radar is a project by Matt Holness (aka Garth Marenghi), based on a fictional second-rate illusionist. He would also like to promote young female talent, such as the comedy writers Katie Douglas and Emma Millions.

"There's no point in just copying the BBC or Channel 4," says Smith. All the same, Five has looked on in envy as BBC3 has carved out a reputation for innovative comedy among the key 16-34 year old demographic with shows such as Little Britain, Nighty Night, Monkey Dust and The Mighty Boosh. The Channel 4 comedy factory, meanwhile, continues to deliver innovative hits, from Phoenix Nights to The Green Wing.

Dan Chambers, Five's director of programmes, has recently set up a comedy slot for Joey [the Friends spin-off] and Two and a Half Men [a Warner Bros hit starring Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer], which he hopes will act as a bridgehead for the projects that Smith commissions - and the relationship with Paramount should ensure they get a wide exposure. "Shows will premiere on Five, say on Monday nights. That episode will then be repeated three times that week on Paramount," he says. "When we launch a show we intend to maximise the publicity and marketing across both channels."

Smith comes to Five after four years in the BBC comedy department, and although he has learnt much by working with some of the cream of British talent - including Little Britain's Matt Lucas and David Walliams, Jack Dee and Harry Hill - you sense that he feels liberated from the corporation's legendary bureaucracy.

Nor is he going to stick with the tried and tested. Smith welcomes fresh talent, and has set up a writers' scheme for people who have never before been commissioned to submit their ideas. The winner will begoing into development.

Entries for the scheme should be submitted to sitcoms@five.tv

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