BBC3 will soon be dead - long live ITV2?

Will ITV2 be able to step into the yawning gap left when (if?) BBC3 is taken off air? And why won’t sitcoms work on the main ITV channel, asks Ben Dowell….?

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BBC3 will soon be dead - long live ITV2?
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Ben Dowell

Will ITV2 become the new home of comedy for ITV?

Well that appears to be very much the broadcaster’s direction of travel as it looks to take advantage of the imminent demise of the BBC’s youth-focused channel, BBC3, which is known for comedy successes like Gavin & Stacey, Him & Her and Bad Education.

Without wishing to be rude, scripted comedy has not exactly been a roaring success on the main ITV channel.

Last year it struggled to launch new scripted comedies Vicious – the gay flat share starring Sirs (Ian) McKellen and (Derek) Jacobi – and The Job Lot, the workplace comedy starring Russell Tovey and Sarah Hadland.

Vicious trundled along with a little over 3 million viewers per episode while The Job Lot started with nearly 5 million but had dropped to a 2.7 million overnights average by the end of the series. They are OK figures. But only OK.

Despite this, Vicious will be returning in some form to ITV – or so we are told – although a mooted 2014 air date looks increasingly unlikely.

And The Job Lot won’t be returning to ITV at all. It will now be an ITV2 comedy having made the unprecedented step of being moved from the main channel to the digital sibling for a second series.

And what a place to be! After all, ITV2 is the home of Plebs – probably the best comedy ITV has done in years and last year's winner of best new comedy at the British Comedy Awards.

So will ITV2 become the new home of comedy for the channel? And if so, what kind of home will it be?

ITV boss Peter Fincham recently revealed at a Broadcasting Press Guild lunch that “there are a few more sitcoms on the pipeline,” for ITV2 – meaning newly commissioned material, which is good news.

He also admitted that 9pm on the main ITV is a “tough slot” to get comedy away (while also stressing that two of the best performing sitcoms – Benidorm and Birds of a Feather – were very much ITV shows and would be staying on the main channel).

But if, as looks to be the case, ITV2 will become much more of a home for scripted comedy for the broadcaster, will it work? And is ITV tacitly admitting that there is rarely a mainstream audience for such shows? Or is it more that comedies for broad mainstream audiences are harder to get right?

A senior comedy executive from a rival broadcaster seems to think so, telling RadioTimes.com: “An ITV2 move makes sense as the ITV foray with original scripts didn’t work too well so it helps Peter Fincham to say they’re spending on original comedy but keeps the attendant risk with new comedy away from main channel. Mainstream populist comedy is still the hardest thing to land and easily the scariest thing for channel controllers.

“E4, ITV2 and BBC3 are all fish from same pond but the fact is that if comedy on the main ITV is scary to even the most experienced comedy producer like Fincham… it’s sad for comedy all round.”

Another source adds: "It's clear that a lot of comedy will be going to ITV2 – especially the youth oriented stuff. It's no bad thing but it looks like breaking new comedy on the main ITV is harder than ever."

Fincham is at pains to stress that his background is in comedy and he believes it can work for ITV. But which ITV? Increasingly, it looks like ITV2. And whether comedy overall will be marginalized as a result remains to be seen. Let’s hope not. But either way, it's possible the BBC's loss could be ITV's gain.

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