Merlin to cast spell on TV viewers

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The Arthurian wizard Merlin will star in a BBC1 primetime drama.

The Saturday night show will focus on the mighty wizard as a young man. It will follow in the tradition of BBC shows, such as Doctor Who and Robin Hood that have sparked a resurgence in family viewing.

But instead of the sci-fi style of Doctor Who and the historical fantasy of Robin Hood, the new drama will concentrate on magic.

The adaptation is in its "very, very, very early stages of development" and will not hit the small screen for at least another year. But it is scheduled to go out at the primetime 7pm slot on BBC1.

BBC1 controller Peter Fincham said he hoped Merlin would encourage even more family viewing.

He said: "Three generational television, television that you can watch with your parents and with your children - there's not enough of that about.

Merlin is said to have engineered the birth of King Arthur through magic and then served as his adviser.

But the BBC said the story would focus less on the legend of the Round Table and more on magic.

The announcement was made yesterday at the channel's winter/spring 2007 season launch.

Other programmes in the line-up include the return of original reality show Castaway after seven years. Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse are also back on BBC1 with a new sketch show The Harry Enfield Show.

Jessie Wallace returns to the channel for the first time since she left EastEnders to play a single mother in A Class Apart. And James Nesbitt will play Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in Steven Moffat's take on the classic story.