Now Baddiel joins queue of talent leaving the BBC

SKY ADDED David Baddiel to its collection of BBC deserters yesterday, paying pounds 5.5m for a new sitcom written by, and starring, the comedian.

Meanwhile the corporation announced that it had walked away from negotiations with his comedy partner Frank Skinner because of his "ridiculous" demands for money. Sources at the BBC said Skinner's management company was asking for nearly pounds 20m for the comedian to sign up exclusively to the BBC for five years.

Sky recently spent pounds 1m to lure Harry Enfield from the corporation and has now committed itself to 22 episodes of Baddiel's show, provisionally entitled Baddiel's Syndrome.

Alan Yentob, the BBC's director of television, said yesterday that the comedy situation was getting out of hand: "The BBC offered what we think is a generous price for a new and wide ranging deal with Frank. But we were not prepared to agree to Avalon's[Skinner's management company] unreasonable tactics and financial terms. Even in the most competitive market place there come demands which are so ridiculous that you have to walk away."

Sky said they aimed to make a comedy on the American model, with a view to selling it in overseas markets. "For a long time, British broadcasters have been told by Americans that they don't commission the right amount of episodes for US television," said a spokesman.

"Friends, Seinfeld and Frasier all began with a minimum of 22 programmes - while the British comedy yardstick has been six half-hours."

British broadcasters argue that the shorter runs reflect the fact that British comics tend to write alone - while Americans write in teams. Baddiel is known to have been keen on the longer commitment in order to ensure greater character development, and allow the show to find its audience. If he completes 22 episodes alone, it will be something of a record.

Baddiel said: "The central character is in therapy. Each week he starts to tell his therapist, who's fairly disturbed himself, how [things have] has panned out this week. Then we cut into the action. At the end of the show, we come back to the therapist." The programme will also feature an American comedian who "is a household name on both sides of the Atlantic," said a spokesman for Avalon, which will produce the show. However, a contract is still three to four weeks' away.

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