EXCLUSIVE: Steve Coogan is bringing a long-gestating Alan Partridge comedy doc series to the BBC.
Deadline can reveal that the beloved comedy icon’s latest show, And Did Those Feet.. With Alan Partridge, will see him travel around meeting locals, with the character having come in to some money after a trip to Saudi Arabia, as the ever-developing Partridge moves with the times.
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BBC comedy boss Jon Petrie revealed the news to Deadline alongside a string of recommissions including for Diane Morgan’s Cunk with Netflix, Dreaming Whilst Black with Showtime, Greg Davies comedy The Cleaner and Man Like Mobeen, along with a new show, Only Child, from the producer of Guilt.
Penned by long-time collaborators Neil and Rob Gibbons and produced by Coogan and Sarah Monteith’s Baby Cow, And Did Those Feet… starts as a homecoming documentary but morphs into something more personal as the character realizes that the happiness he thought he’d feel at being back in Norwich just hasn’t materialized. He will journey on a quest to find funk-free parts of the nation, taking in home life, work and pastimes across six episodes as he aims to become a mental health champion for the middle-aged.
The series has been gestating since 2019 when the BBC started developing a similar idea to And Did Those Feet… with Coogan. That show was eventually scotched by the Covid-19 pandemic but had nearly been ruined by Coogan amassing points on his driving licence. He eventually argued against a lengthy driving ban partly because the new travelog series could not be filmed on public transport, according to reports from the time. A similar show, Scissored Isle, aired on Sky several years ago.
Petrie said the travelog shows that Coogan is adept at moving his character along with the times even when he is starring in totally different fare such as Jimmy Savile drama The Reckoning. Upcoming movie credits for Coogan include Despicable Me 4, The Penguin Lessons and the Joker sequel.
“The amazing thing about Alan Partridge is that he grows old with Steve Coogan,” said Petrie. “The level of detail is insane, this is a character who has had two autobiographies, podcasts and audio books. All this new media comes along and they do it with such attention to detail.”
In a similar vein to This Time, the spoof current affairs program in which Coogan starred alongside Susannah Fielding and regular comedy partner Tim Key, Petrie said the new show will “showcase the best new British character comedians,” although cast is not yet set. Cameras will roll over the summer. This Time is rested for the time being.
Baby Cow boss Monteith said the show “promises to be exactly the sort of uncompromising, state-of-the-nation piece that the country needs, almost as much as he does.” Coogan joked: “The kingdom of Saudi Arabia directs some $69 billion to military expenditure each year. And yet despite all that, I somehow felt incomplete.”
Cunk, Cleaner, Dreaming & Mobeen
With more than two years as BBC Comedy Director under his belt, Petrie confidently unveiled a further quartet of recommissions that he said showcases the best of British comedy, including Dreaming Whilst Black and a fifth run of Man Like Mobeen, the latter of which will once again see Guz Khan return as the haphazard lead character.
One-off special Cunk‘s Quest for Meaning, which is created by Charlie Brooker and co-produced with Netflix, will see Diane Morgan’s Partridge-like comedy character Philomena Cunk tackle some of the most complex concepts to have ever been discovered, including quantum physics, existentialism, nihilism and hedonism, as she meet experts including TV scientist Brian Cox. In her search for answers, she’ll also examine the lives and works of some of history’s foremost thinkers and ground-breaking creatives, from Epicurus to Dostoyevsky, from Sartre to Van Gogh, to Nietzsche.
Petrie said Motherland star Morgan is a comedian “at the top of her game, she has the Midas touch.” “Cunk has become a global phenomenon, so it’s fitting that she is travelling further than before to ask some of the brightest people on earth some serious questions,” he added.
The Cleaner, meanwhile, is back for a third season, and will see Davies return as Paul ‘Wicky’ Wickstead to take on a whole host of eventful cleaning jobs. Armed once more with his trusty box of cleaning tools, Wicky removes more gruesome remains at the scenes of six new crimes where he’ll encounter more unusual characters.
The Cleaner feeds into Petrie’s desire for sitcoms and the commissioner said this is the case for buyers on both sides of the pond. “This is about a high joke rate, relatable characters and relatable story-of-the-week stuff,” he added. “When we get shows like The Cleaner or [Katherine Parkinson-starrer] Here We Go we double down and commit. You don’t have to know the backstory, they are just big laugh shows and they are still getting crazy numbers.”
Tom Basden’s Here We Go and Daisy May Cooper’s Am I Being Unreasonable? were both recently handed double season orders by Petrie following the success of the first.
Petrie stressed that overnight ratings are now of little value to his department when deciding on recommissions.
“I almost ignore them because that is just not our world,” he added. “A lot of our time is spent reminding talent about that. It’s quite frustrating when your baby gets put out to the world [and gets a low number of linear viewers] but you have to give things time.”
His comments came as The Office and People Just Do Nothing producer Ash Atalla told an RTS panel that a digital-first strategy should allow broadcasters to take more risks on comedy talent. “Ricky Gervais was not Gervais when we made The Office and Chris O’Dowd was not O’Dowd when we made The IT Crowd,” Atalla said. “You have to remind the broadcasters that [big] shows don’t happen overnight.”
According to the BBC, there were 600 million requests for comedy on iPlayer last year and nine out of the top 10 most-watched scripted comedies were on the nation’s public broadcaster, including the likes of Ghosts, Not Going Out and new series The Power of Parker.
“We are the biggest backers of new talent and we nurture and develop brand new comedy voices whilst still attracting the most established household names and I’m really pleased to be welcoming back some fan favourites alongside our new sitcom Only Child,” added Petrie. Only Child comes from Guilt producer Happy Tramp North and follows a budding author, played by Greg McHugh, coming back to the family home in North East Scotland to look after his ageing and wilful dad Ken, played by Gregor Fisher.
Comedy tax credit
Beyond commissioning, Petrie has been busy putting ideas together for a comedy tax credit, which he first floated at last year’s BBC Comedy Festival.
The BBC submitted its plans for a comedy tax credit to the Culture, Media & Sport Committee’s high-end TV and film inquiry several months ago and the idea would be separate to the current high-end TV tax credit, which only applies to shows that cost more than £1M ($1.28M) per episode.
While the high-end TV tax credit’s success has been focused on the amount of money it has generated for the local economy, Petrie said a separate comedy tax credit would be crucial because of the “cultural impact” of the genre, which is struggling for funding. He has been busy speaking to producers, stakeholders and the BBC’s policy and business affairs teams over the past few months, and he said Director General Tim Davie and content boss Charlotte Moore are “genuinely very supportive” of his plans. The BBC has also submitted plans for a children’s and indie film credit.
“I think it’s all part of building that case for comedy,” said Petrie. “We don’t want to be pushing too much and need to be careful but it’s important to speak up for comedy and try and ensure a healthy ecosystem.”
Petrie will reveal more at the next Comedy Festival, which will take place from 22 to 24 May in Glasgow.
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