BBCA Pumps Up the Volume

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Drafting behind a new British invasion on U.S. television screens, BBC America stepped up spending on co-produced and acquired shows, and it is cooking up a new branding campaign for early next year, officials said.

The network expects to announce Monday that it used some of that money on three new co-productions with U.K. television firms, including one by star British writer Paul Abbott (State of Play), and on acquiring new series and movies, including a thriller, Eleventh Hour, starring Star Trek: The Next Generation alumnus Patrick Stewart.

Series such as risque soap Footballers Wive$ (which ABC is adapting for U.S. viewing), supernatural fantasy Hex and time-travel drama Life on Mars have helped channel officials point to viewing gains.

The network’s 2006 primetime audience is up 12% in total viewers, and the head count of viewers 25-54 is up 16% year-to-date versus 2005, officials said, citing Nielsen Media Research figures.

The new co-productions BBC America will announce Monday (no scheduled airdates) are:

Goldplated, eight one-hour episodes, a darkly comic family saga set in a world of the nouveau riche, from World Productions for Channel 4 and BBCA.

After Thomas, a two-hour movie starring Keeley Hawes (of A&E Network import MI-5) and Ben Miles (Coupling) as parents dealing with a difficult situation, from Hartswood Films for ITV and BBCA.

The Innocence Project, eight one-hour episodes about a group of law students who take on, pro bono, miscarriage-of-justice cases, from Tightrope Pictures for BBC Northern Ireland and BBCA.

New acquisitions include Eleventh Hour, starring Stewart as a former physics professor who advises the government on crises arising from the abuse of modern scientific knowledge; and Afterlife, about a psychology professor who meets a psychic who claims to see the spirit of the professor’s dead son. Eleventh Hour premieres Dec. 4, while Afterlife starts Nov. 21.

BBC America general manager Kathryn Mitchell wouldn’t say much about the upcoming branding campaign, other than that it should start in March and it will be “all about the channel being in America.”

For more on BBC America, please see Kent Gibbons’ story on page eight of Monday’s issue of Multichannel News.