Is this drama make-or-break for beleaguered BBC3?

The BBC is making a desperate effort to bolster viewing figures on its ailing BBC3 digital channel with a series of dramas written and directed by and starring young artists.

The Things I Haven't Told You, going head-to-head with the controversial but popular Channel 4 drama Skins, is part of the BBC's attempts to capture an audience for "youthful drama". The show was written and directed by two 26-year-olds, while some of its teenage actors auditioned for but missed out on roles in Skins.

BBC insiders see it as a final attempt at justifying BBC3 which, despite an annual budget of more than £80m, has struggled to make an impression on audience figures. Senior corporation figures have contributed to a critical mauling for the channel. These include Newsnight's Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys, the Today presenter, who suggested it would be worth axing to stave off cuts elsewhere.

Like Skins, which was criticised for its depiction of wild excess among late adolescents, The Things I Haven't Told You is set in a school sixth-form and is about a group of teenagers who harbour dark secrets. Typically, they like a good party as well. A viral trailer, released only on the internet to appeal to YouTube viewers, has raised some interest ahead of its screening tomorrow night.

Elizabeth Day, 18, who plays angst-ridden Aisling, said: "They have described it as Desperate Housewives for teenagers." Nathalie Lunghi, 21, daughter of actress Cherie Lunghi, said: "When I was a teenager I'd go clubbing and then stay in bed until 3pm the next day."

BBC3 controller Danny Cohen added: "We are going to continue to work hard to introduce new programmes and new talent to our target audience. These pilots are the first step in the development of a new generation of youthful drama series for BBC3."

'The Things I Haven't Told You' is on BBC3 tomorrow at 9pm