BBC, Amazon order Big Talk comedy from Stephen Merchant, Elgin James

Stephen Merchant

BBC One in the UK and Amazon Studios have linked up on a new six-part comedy from The Office and Lip Sync Battle co-creator Stephen Merchant.

The Offenders (working title) is from writer and director Merchant and Elgin James, co-creator of Mayans M.C., and is being produced by ITV Studios-backed Big Talk Productions. Merchant’s prodco Four Eyes is also attached.

The U.S, Canada and Australia deal with Amazon was brokered by Phil Sequeira at BBC Studios, with the latter distributing the series globally.

The 6 x 60 minute series will film in Bristol, UK, and premiere on BBC One and BBC iPlayer in the UK and on Amazon Prime Video in the US, Canada and Australia.

The show follows seven strangers from different walks of life forced together to complete a ‘community payback’ sentence in Bristol, with the show exploring what made them the people they have become. It is described as “part crime thriller, character study, and a state-of-the-nation commentary – with humour and heart.”

The series was commissioned for the BBC by Charlotte Moore, director of content, Shane Allen, controller of comedy commissioning and Kate Daughton, head of comedy.

Merchant described the series as “a long-standing passion project,” adding: “My parents used to work in the community service world and I was always intrigued that the many and varied people they dealt with only had one thing in common: they’d committed a crime.

“Ever since The Office, I’ve loved finding ways to bring unlikely groups of people together and watch the sparks fly. As a writer I always include humour, but with The Offenders I also get to add drama, pathos, crime genre thrills and say something optimistic about the common humanity that unites us all, whatever our background.

The Offenders’ mix of light and shade, dark and comic, middle-class angst with inner-city grit, reflects the unlikely partnership of me and Elgin. I grew up in suburbia, whereas Elgin spent his early life building a national street gang until a police investigation landed him in prison. Despite coming from different sides of the tracks, Elgin and I share a love of convincing characters and authentic, engaging, human stories.”

Kenton Allen, Big Talk CEO, added that he was “thrilled to be working with Amazon for the first time on an original production and can’t wait for UK and US audiences to see what I think will be a very distinctive and eye-catching show.”

Brad Beale, VP of worldwide content licensing for Amazon Prime Video, said: “We’re so excited to work with Stephen on a series with his signature razor-sharp wit and distinctive, delightful characters. Stephen is such a gifted actor and creator, and we know our Prime Video customers will love The Offenders.”

Executive producers are Merchant for Four Eyes, Luke Alkin, Allen and Matthew Justice for Big Talk, and Kate Daughton is the commissioning editor for the BBC. Lead director is Merchant and Nickie Sault (The Virtues, World On Fire) produces.

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