Torchwood returns to screens this month with an all new series, new cast members and an all new format. In preparation the BBC marketing machine has started its promotional campaign. Series 4 of the show, known henceforth as Torchwood: Miracle Day begins on BBC One on 14th of July following a 2 year gap. This airdate has left many UK based fans unhappy.
Torchwood: Miracle Day is a co-production with US premium cable network Starz. This is an intriguing direction for a BBC show but with budgets falling, global audiences and overseas sales must be taken into consideration when making and commissioning shows.
Ironically the last time this kind of broadcasting experiment was made with a science fiction programme was with Torchwood’s parent show Doctor Who anda 1996 NBC pilot which, despite high UK ratings, lasted all of one episode. More recently sitcoms Extras and Episodes have been co-financed with HBO but this is a far bigger proposition. This is a prime time BBC One, flagship and franchise based show. If it fails in the states but remains successful on home territory, does it still have a future?
Torchwood is the perfect show to experiment with. What started as a high-budget but low rent, sex obsessed Doctor Who spin-off has matured through the years and shifted format to bring in new audiences. The first series performed strongly for youth channel BBC Three and was promoted to a primetime slot of BBC Two. The third series was then moved to the main channel BBC One and stripped across five nights as a prestige drama. The show had transformed from schlocky sci-fi to a thoughtful science fiction drama. In its latest incarnation it’s essentially an American drama, reportedly tripling its previous budget.
However that does not mean that the show has completely abandoned its roots. Original cast members John Barrowman, Eve Myles and Kai Owen all return, as does the Welsh setting, initially at least. They’re supported by well -known US faces with ER star Mekhi Phifer and the big screen regular Bill Pullman each on-board as series regulars.
Also returning is the show creator Russell T Davies. In his role as show-runner he’s brought a British flavour to the American round table writing style, as well as bringing in well-respected stateside talents such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer veteran Jane Espenson and Supernatural scribe John Shiban.
While all this is exciting stuff, UK fans will have to wait a full six days to watch the show following US screenings. While this would be an extremely good turnaround time for any other US produced show, British fans feel that since it was originally a UK show that simultaneous screenings would be the right thing to do. The good people at Den of Geek have been looking into the issue and to rub salt into the wound Canada will also be getting their premier ahead of the BBC.
Many would argue that internet downloads will mean that the Torchwood ratings will take a hit. However the majority of viewers still consume television in a traditional way. Torchwood: Miracle day has been given the Thursday night slot which tradionally gathers high ratings. It simply wouldn’t fit in with the normal sleepy Sunday UK scheduling. Only the die hard fans will be taking to their laptops ahead of time and besides they’ll probably watch it live anyway to look out for the differences between the international edits.
Whatever the air dates, it’s a bold move by the BBC for such a mainstream show and could cement the international co-production trend. If successful this could mean the beginning of a brave new world of broadcasting.
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