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Sex and death make drama on Channel 4

BRITAIN'S FIRST gay soap opera, Queer as Folk, is at the forefront of a Channel 4 attempt to double the amount of drama on the network over the next 18 months.

The story of three gay men in Manchester is likened to the BBC cult series This Life, and will feature "explicit, though not sensational sex", the head of drama, Gub Neal, said yesterday. It is the first example of a new wave of drama on Channel 4 that has been commissioned since Michael Jackson became the chief executive 18 months ago. The budget for drama will rise by pounds 10m this year to pounds 30m.

Mr Jackson unveiled the programme at the launch of the channel's winter schedule - making clear that he is finally putting his stamp on the channel's output.

"The time has come for the commissioning editors who were appointed by Michael to stand up and be counted," Mr Neal said, adding that there would be another new drama, Psychos, which was a "sort of Casualty on acid". The drama is set in the psychiatric ward of a Glasgow hospital and several episodes will be directed by Andy Wilson, who worked on Cracker. Both form part of a quest at Channel 4 to find a good "renewable" drama - a soap or a series. The network has Brookside and Hollyoaks as early evening soaps, but no later evening ones.

If Queer as Folk or Psychos fails to fit the bill, there are several more big drama projects in the pipeline. Renewable dramas tend to be about either doctors, the law or the police, Mr Neal said, with the channel producing Trauma 1 next year - a medical drama by the writer of the BBC's critically acclaimed Cardiac Arrest.

Also in development is The Disappeared, which will follow in the psychological- crime tradition of Cracker. It will feature a female central character, and be a type of Silence of the Lambs series about tracking down high- risk convicts who have escaped from prison.

Next year will also see Channel 4 producing a modern day version of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

Overall, the winter schedule was portrayed as Michael Jackson's approach to rebranding the channel as "ironic and sophisticated". The documentary Coroners follows the work of a Birmingham coroner and his team and explores the "dirty, messy ways of dying".

Having done sex to death, the aim seemed to be to tackle Britain's last taboo, and make death sexy.