MTV announced Monday that it had won a bidding war to produce a U.S. version of "Skins," the popular, controversial television show about the lives of a group of British teens. But, instead of speaking in an English accent, you can expect the teens in the American version to speak fluent Bawlamerese.
"I've been pursuing this project for two years, and we're planning to set our show in Baltimore," says Liz Gateley, senior vice president of series development for MTV. And, as is true of the original series, now in its third season, Gateley says, "we want to join together unknown teenagers to write the story lines and star in the pilot, though we'll also combine those performers with more seasoned faces."
So far, MTV has committed to shooting just a pilot, which is expected to air in 2010. If all goes well, Gateley hopes the cable channel will commit to broadcasting a full series.
Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, the father-son team that created "Skins" in 2007, will put together the show that will air this side of the Atlantic.
"The creators already have done focus groups in Baltimore," Gateley says, adding that the show's developers spent a few days here the week of Aug. 10.
"They've met with kids here and found out what they're experiencing, where they go to school, and where they hang out. They wanted to set the show someplace that is a good cross-section of the country. I think they chose Baltimore because it has diverse ethnic groups and socioeconomic levels and urban and suburban areas."
"Skins" currently is broadcast in the U.S. on BBC America. Though some parents have been horrified at the frank depiction of casual sex and rampant drug use, "Skins" has been a big hit in the U.K. among teens and young adults. It's the third-highest-rated show on the E4 network, reaching an estimated 1.2 million viewers - including 61 percent of those age 16 to 34, according to MTV.
The show also has skateboarded some relatively unknown actors and bands to success. In the U.K., "Skins" is appreciated for its edgy, original soundtrack, with each season including an estimated 150 songs, primarily from previously undiscovered musical acts.
Actor Dev Patel might be the show's best-known success story. He was plucked from the cast of "Skins" to star in "Slumdog Millionaire," the independent film that won the 2008 Academy Award for Best Picture.
"When I saw the first episode of Season 1 of 'Skins,' it struck me as incredibly authentic," Gateley says. "I felt in my gut that it is really representative of what teens are going through, and not in a soapy or over-hyped way."
Because it's early in the show's development process, basic questions still are up in the air. Gateley says her first priority is to get "a fantastic script" written for the pilot. It's unknown, for instance, who could be tapped to star in the show, how it might differ from the British version, or even where it will be filmed.
"It's premature to comment on any aspect of the production," she says. "Will we end up shooting in your city? It's hard to say. Economics will be a factor. I would imagine that we will do some shooting in Baltimore."