Ian Burrell: Comedy will be key if BBC3 wants to keep its youthful audience happy

Viewpoint: BBC3 effectively concentrates on only two genres: comedy and factual

Did you ever wonder what became of Heydon Prowse? He was the prankster who filmed the Conservative frontbencher Alan Duncan on the House of Commons terrace claiming at the time of the Westminster expenses scandal that MPs "have to live on rations and are treated like shit".

Since then Prowse and his sidekick Jolyon Rubinstein have continued making films lampooning the powerful, in collaboration with Don't Panic magazine. And now they have a show on the BBC. In one previous stunt, Prowse and Rubinstein dressed as fashionistas and tricked staff at Top Shop's flagship London store into installing a window display espousing "The Monaco Look", a mannequin in a T-shirt advising passers-by of Sir Philip Green's fondness for the tax haven.

In a film made during the peaceful Occupy the London Stock Exchange protest last year, they provocatively mingled with the docile crowds by posing as a film crew from "Fox News UK" in helmets and flak jackets. "I feel threatened, it's total chaos, total anarchy, we've just got to get out really fast." The humour is in the way the well-meaning protesters and police officers are outraged by the coverage.

These films caught the attention of Zai Bennett, controller of BBC3, who has commissioned Prowse and Rubinstein to make a six-episode series, provisionally-titled The Revolution Will Be Televised, to be broadcast in May. "They have got the most huge balls, they're nuts – but in a good way," he says.

Bennett, one of the star young executives of the British television industry, has been in charge of the BBC's youth channel for a year after being poached from ITV. He earned his reputation by bringing a young audience to ITV2 for shows such as The Only Way is Essex. But it is the genre of comedy that dominates his thoughts at BBC3. "I can't overstate the importance of comedy," he says. "If you get comedy right it can define your channel."

He picks out two more of his new commissions as examples of "where I want BBC3 comedy to be". The Californian actor Andy Samberg stars in Cuckoo, playing an idle young hippie who a British girl introduces to her parents as her new husband as she arrives home from a gap year. The tension between Samberg's character and an overprotective father played by Greg Davies (the headmaster from The Inbetweeners) sounds like rich comedy material. Then there's Bad Education, a school-based script written by comedian Jack Whitehall – who is only 23 and stars in the show as a highly immature teacher.

BBC3's budget has frequently been questioned. It took a 20% cut before Bennett joined and he is implementing a further 15% saving which will see the channel effectively concentrating on only two genres; comedy and factual.

When it gets factual shows right, BBC3's 16-34 year-old audience responds enthusiastically. It has scored the highest AI (Appreciation Index) figures of any BBC channel, for shows such as last year's Alex: A Life in Fast Forward about a 21-year-old with bone cancer.

It is one of only two BBC channels designated to show the Olympics and its coverage will have a more youthful tone, fronted by Jake Humphrey, 33. "We have an opportunity with a lot of people who have not watched the channel before," says Bennett. "We want to convince them it's a good thing for BBC3 to exist." He no longer has to make that argument with many younger viewers. "In television as a whole youth audiences are extremely unhappy with the way they are portrayed," he says, quoting new research. "BBC3 is one of the few exceptions to that."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm today
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
News
Billie Whitelaw was best known for her close collaboration with playwright Samuel Beckett, here performing in a Beckett Trilogy at The Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
people'Omen' star was best known for stage work with Samuel Beckett
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

Ashdown Group: Analyst Programmer (Filemaker Pro/ SQL) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days, pension, private medical : Ashdown Group: A highly...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst - Chessington

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Service Desk Analyst - Chessington, Surrey...

Charter Selection: Graphic Designer, Guildford

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Charter Selection: This renowned and well establish...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'