That's death for `This Life'

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The Independent Online
It has been likened to a British version of Friends. In fact it is more like Friends on drugs with hormones out of control.

This Life, the television cult sensation of the year will leave its audience of 4.2 million on tenterhooks tonight, not knowing whether the ending of the second series will be the final curtain for the saga of twentysomething life.

The programme, which focuses on a household of upwardly mobile, sexually free but fraught housemates, has leapt to the top of the BBC2 ratings With its mixture of racy dialogue, drink, drugs, sex and career problems, confused men, feisty women and erratic slice-of-life camera-work to boot, it has won a devoted audience.

More to the point for BBC2 controller Mark Thompson, private figures being studied at BBC2 show that the audience profile centres on twentysomethings, which the station has been desperate to attract. This Life was commissioned by Michael Jackson, now head of Channel 4, when he was BBC2 controller with the express purpose of attracting a younger audience to BBC2.

But with no third series yet commissioned there has been speculation that the BBC might be carelessly about to lose one of its surprise hits.

BBC sources deny that the delay in announcing a third series has resulted in the loss of the stars. A number of the actors and actresses have taken on other work, but none has ruled out returning for a third series.

Mr Thompson, who returns from holiday this weekend, has been in daily touch with his staff, and is determined that BBC2 will screen a third series. First, however he has to see scripts and storylines from World Productions, the independent production company that makes the programme. A spokeswoman there refused to comment, but it is understood that a new series is being prepared.

The eminence grise at World Productions is This Life executive producer, Tony Garnett. His pedigree goes back to Sixties classics Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction. It may be something of an irony that the series hailed as accurately portraying twentysomething life has at its apex a 61-year- old.

A BBC spokeswoman said yesterday: "Mark Thompson is committed to the show. He has asked World Productions to come up with storylines and we're waiting to see them. We are very anxious to have a third series."

However, that option could yet be denied them by Mr Garnett and his team. Tonight will reveal whether Miles, the barrister, marries his fiancee Francesca or goes off with Anna, the sexy, sardonic cocaine snorting Scot. If he marries, he will leave the shared house and possibly the series.

The writers could decide that the south London house, not its occupants, is the link between the different series, and it might benefit from new tenants.

The producers promise some hints tonight. "Keep your eyes peeled on the closing credits," said one source.