A British TV show depicting teenagers doing drugs and having sex, which arguably has helped to raise the creative bar on Channel 4, is about to be unleashed on the international market.
"Skins," a cult hit with Blighty's 16- to 24-year-olds, is a latenight dramedy about the lives of a group of worldly, middle-class 16- and 17-year-olds made by U.K. shingle Company Pictures.
Now in its third season, (only not really) its ratings have dipped a bit, but local versions have been optioned in Spain to Curazo TV and in Romania to MediaPro Distribution.
There is speculation that U.S. webheads also are considering making a version of "Skins."
"There has been interest from a couple of U.S. networks to adapt the format," Channel 4's acquisitions head Jeff Ford says.
Created by veteran British scriptwriter Brian Elsley and his son James, "Skins" employs a writing team mostly in its early 20s; one episode of the current run is written by an 18-year-old.
The cast is largely made up of faces new to TV. The exception is "About a Boy" star Nicholas Hoult, who plays cool Tony, a budding alpha-male whose confidence is undermined by a car crash.
"One reason why the audience has taken to 'Skins' is because it doesn't preach," Channel 4's head of scheduling Rosemary Newell says.
While figures for the second season, which bowed Feb. 11 on spinoff, youth-skewed web E4 (each episode is repeated a few days later on Channel 4), are down year-on-year despite an intense marketing campaign, the show remains one of the channel's biggest draws, ahead of established E4 fare like "Friends."
The first season of "Skins" averaged 1.1 million across its nine episodes, a good audience for a U.K. digital channel.
The second run debuted with 884,000 viewers, which translates into a multichannel audience share of 5.9%. For the week beginning March 16, viewers had dropped to 709,000.
" 'Skins' success shouldn't be measured only by ratings," E4 head Angela Jain insists. "It is an utterly channel-defining show that totally chimes with our audience."
In any case, Channel 4 claims the figures underestimate the true size of the "Skins" audience because a lot of viewers are watching via the station's on-demand portal, 4OD.
Undoubtedly the program has won the approval of Brit TV professionals. Earlier this year it won the prize for best drama series at the Broadcast awards. "Skins" is nominated at next month's TV BAFTAs in the same category.
The company is developing a third season, but with budgets tight and Channel 4 in the midst of deliberations over its long-term strategy, the future of an expensive show like "Skins" -- despite its iconic status -- is not guaranteed.
Yet with advertisers keen to reach teenagers, it is perhaps not surprising that the skein has been exported to more than 100 territories as a completed show. But can "Skins" translate to overseas auds?
"NBC is planning to make 'Father Ted' (a surreal Channel 4 sitcom lampooning the Catholic Church)," Ford says. "If they can do 'Father Ted,' I can't see why 'Skins' can't be reversioned for the U.S.
The question is whether a U.S. version of "Skins" could retain the essence of the U.K. show that makes it unique. 'The Office' (which has been adapted successfully for the American market) is edgy, but not in the way 'Skins' is.
"There are things in 'Skins' like young people having sex and doing drugs that make people feel uncomfortable," Ford says. "If HBO or Showtime made a version of 'Skins,' there wouldn't be a problem: A (broadcast) network adaptation would need to be watered down."