BBC2 controller Janice Hadlow has stood by her decision to recommission Count Arthur Strong, saying the sitcom “still makes me laugh, and at the end of the day you can only go with something that you think is funny”.
The series, starring Steve Delaney and Rory Kinnear, was well reviewed but rated poorly in a pre-watershed slot, having already been recommissioned for a second series before the first had aired.
“Comedy is the hardest thing,” Hadlow said at the Edinburgh International Television Festival. “I’ve been a channel controller now for nine years and I think in that time that’s the thing I’ve learnt – that comedy is the hardest thing to predict when it’s going to be a ratings winner. You have to go with your heart, you have to be prepared to take chances.
“I think pre-watershed comedy’s particularly difficult – it’s very competitive, everyone’s looking for a pre-watershed success. Because we haven’t had a huge amount of pre-watershed comedy, people are perhaps not looking for it there yet – people need to get more familiar with the idea that there can be quite technicolor laughs quite early on BBC2, so we’ll hang on in there.”
Hadlow, who also runs BBC4, acknowledged that the adventures of Delaney’s confused music-hall veteran – directed and co-written for TV by Graham Linehan – were not to everyone’s taste: “Count Arthur, when he was on Radio 4, was always a bit Marmite – you either really, really find it funny or you really don’t and I think that’s true on television as well.
“I think what you can’t do on BBC2 is go the opposite of what Marmite is – I don’t think something very bland will ever work for us. We’re always looking for strong flavours, and strong flavours sometimes are a bit divisive. This is a funny show, we believe in it. For me this is a brave decision and it’s one I stand by.”
Count Arthur Strong is expected to return to BBC2 next year.