Hadlow on the hunt for comedies

BBC Two session

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BBC Two controller Janice Hadlow is looking for more popular broad comedies in the pre-watershed slot, following the departure of Miranda to BBC One.

Speaking at a staff Q&A in Salford, she said "bringing together the right subject, talent and moment is very, very hard to do" but the network, along with other mainstream rivals, was looking for more comedies.

However she added that BBC Two was "fundamentally a factual channel", which assumed viewers were "intelligent, thinking people".

During the session, Hadlow, who is also the interim BBC Four boss, spoke on a range of topics, highlighted below.


  • Hadlow said "casting is everything" for documentaries and recommends programme-makers to submit a "great taster tape" when pitching. She explained tapes didn't have to be broadcast-quality but they should provide a glimpse of contributors, and can make a "huge difference" on whether ideas get commissioned.
  • She thinks documentaries should have more wit when appropriate, citing Inside John Lewis as the touchstone. Hadlow emphasised subtlety of wit could be achieved either via the presenter or pairing a good filmmaker with a good editor. She also praised the popular Inside Claridge's for not showing people's foibles in a cruel way.
  • Concerning coverage for the Great War centenary, the 2014 slots are already filled but some are available for 2015 and 2016.
  • The channel has an "undiminished appetite for history" but Hadlow thinks there is room for individual interpretation and authorship from a credible presenter. Following Victorian Farm spin-offs, BBC Two is looking for "other popular manifestations of history" that work in the 8pm slot when long-form narratives prove popular.
  • Hadlow's ambition is for most factual shows to get between 1.5 million and 2.5m viewers. But she acknowledged some genres, such as the arts, produce high-quality content that are important for building the channel's reputation even if they don't draw big audiences.

Evening slots

Factbox: BBC Two

The Great British Bake Off
  • Content budget: £417m
  • Increased investment in drama, factual and scripted comedy
  • Reductions in entertainment, niche sports, arts and current affairs
  • Children's and original output have been removed from daytime, which now shows mainly factual repeats
  • BBC Two HD launched on March 26
  • Hits include Top Gear, The Great British Bake Off, Inside Claridge's and Line of Duty
  • 8pm has become one of the most competitive slots in the schedule but Hadlow wants factual entertainment shows "to do more than entertain", and provide extra content. In addition, getting the 8pm slot right can boost audiences for 9pm.
  • Hadlow said: "Our perpetual concern at 8pm is making sure not everything is food […] which is why Great British Sewing Bee is such a huge asset for us because it's a successful popular format that doesn't have a doughnut in sight."
  • Currently filming its fourth series, The Great British Bake Off will air on BBC Two later this year. Although there are rumours that the contest, which peaked with 7.3m viewers last year, may shift to BBC One in the future.

Presenter talent

Dan Snow in Syria A History of Syria with Dan Snow was well-received on BBC Two
  • Hadlow said around 75% of BBC Two's factual output was led by a presenter. "It's impossible to overestimate how important it is to get the right presenter and project…the right presenter can transform a programme from being an agreeable 1.1m into something that can get nearly 2m because the audience are being invited into the subject."
  • She added the channel is willing to "put people on television that no one has ever heard of. It's not all about the fame or profile of the presenter but it is about their ability to communicate."
  • BBC Two wants presenters who can stay with the channel over a long period, not just for one show. "If we spot the right talent, we will find projects for them, spend time on shaping them…but at the beginning we've got to feel they actually have something we want to invest in," Hadlow said.
  • She also added: "If you've got a good idea, we can help partner up a good presenter" but "nothing works unless there is something new to say".
  • Expert presenters should be able to learn TV techniques and be paired with "the right producer". Hadlow said: "Not everybody gets it right the first time, you have to have faith as a channel controller…and the next time they will get better."

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