Hunt for new Scottish sitcom kick-started on BBC Scotland channel

A search for a new Scottish sitcom will be launched as part of the autumn line-up on BBC Scotland’s new channel.

BBC Scotland headquarters. Picture: John Devlin.

The broadcaster hopes to emulate the success of Still Game, Scot Squad and Two Doors Down by road-testing six different sitcom pilots.

They have revealed that up to two of the shows could get a commission for a full series depending on the audience response when they are shown later this year.

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The pilots been given the green light in the wake of growing demand for comedy on the new channel and the commissioning of new series fronted by the likes of Brian “Limmy” Limond, Robert Florence and Mark Nelson.

Although the writers and actors involved in the sitcoms, which will be shown in December, have not yet been revealed, the scripts are said to focus on “warmth, family and friendship”.

The “sitcom pilot season” was revealed as one of the highlights of the new season on the channel, which started broadcasting in February and has had a mixed response from critics and commentators, with some shows being watched by only a handful of viewers.

However, six months into the channel’s life, boss Steve Carson insists it is “performing ahead of expectations,” with an average weekly reach of 17.6 per cent of the available audience and the highest digital reach in Scotland outwith the five main channels.

He insisted the future of news show The Nine was secure, despite audience slumping below 10,000 on some nights, and claimed the channel had played a major part in BBC Scotland’s iPlayer audience, growing 64 per cent in a year.

The sitcom pilots have emerged from a commitment to use the channel to showcase new talent drawn from across Scotland. It is about to launch a new series featuring Aberdeenshire singer Emeli Sande taking to the streets to try to find new singing stars to perform with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

It will also stage the first TV broadcasts of six shows from A Play, A Pie and A Pint, Glasgow’s hit lunchtime theatre showcase for new plays. The first to be broadcast is inspired by the legendary Scottish comic Chic Murray.

A major highlight of the new season will be the premiere of the first major drama series commissioned for the channel. The black comedy Guilt, which stars former Edinburgh school pals Jamie Sives and Mark Bonnar as two brothers struggling to cover their tracks after accidentally running over an elderly man, has been penned by Neil Forsyth, the creator of the best-selling book and sitcom series Bob Servant. The “cheeky and irreverent” late-night football chat show A View From The Terrace will also be returning for a further 20 instalments.

Mr Carson said: “We’re really committed to delivering a full range of comedy. We have a whole host of things coming through at the moment, including sketch shows and stand-up, but it’s clearly important to make sure the flow of sitcoms keep coming.

“We are still in the contracting stage, so we can’t say who is going to be involved, but we are talking about broad, mainstream sitcoms. Still Game is obviously very special, so I wouldn’t want put pressure on any new team to come up with ‘the new Still Game’.

“But there is a fantastic track record in Scotland of producing mainstream sitcoms that work with audiences here, but can also around the UK and elsewhere. There is no point in piloting if you can’t go to a full series, so we’ve made provisions in our budget to take forward one or more of them.

“When we set the new channel up there we could have filled the schedules with the sort of programmes which already appeal to audiences or could try to bring in things which would new audiences.

“We went down the latter route, which is the riskier once, but I’m ready glad we did. When we were doing audience research earlier this year, the biggest thing that came through was surprise, which was one of the key things we wanted to achieve.”