Gay Irish comedian Graham Norton, whose saucy wit and celebrity interviews have made him a household name in the United Kingdom, is coming to America courtesy of Comedy Central. The cable channel beat out NBC and ABC to sign Norton to a two-year deal that will give him at least 13 episodes of a U.S. version of his Channel Four talk-variety show as well as hosting duties on various specials. "Comedy Central seemed a safer place to start in America," said Norton, who is on a stand-up comedy tour of the States. "I won't look as freakish there as I would have on one of the bigger networks."
Norton's program So Graham Norton and later incarnation V. Graham Norton have been ratings smashes and award winners in Britain. He had already begun making a name for himself stateside thanks to reruns of So on cable channel BBC America. "We've been keeping our eyes on him for the past few years, and we felt it was time to bring him over," said Bill Hilary, executive vice president and general manager of Comedy Central. "He's an extremely funny man." Although So is rebroadcast in the States and other countries, the untitled Comedy Central project represents Norton's first original venture outside the United Kingdom. His contract with Channel Four ends next year.
Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the two-year pact is standard for talent on Comedy, which typically commits to 13 episodes with an option for a second season, as it did with Chappelle's Show and Reno 911! The network also could potentially order an additional nine episodes for the first season. Norton's vehicle will be Comedy Central's first hour-long series. Each episode will be produced during the week before it airs, likely in New York or Los Angeles.
The project, which is expected to debut in June, will retain the format of So, which blends celebrity interviews with audience interaction and pretaped gags. But Lauren Corrao, senior vice president for original programming at Comedy Central, expects new aspects to emerge as Norton embraces a different environment. "I think they will find new things that will come out of whatever this new show evolves into," he said. In addition to the series, Norton also will get his own stand-up special and serve as host of four installments of Reel Comedy, a series that promotes new theatrical releases.