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Brash Brit Ricky Gervais turns sweeter in new comedy

By Lisa Richwine

PASADENA, California (Reuters) - Ricky Gervais, the brash Briton who built a career on biting satire, is showing off his sweeter side.

Gervais stars in "Derek," a comedy he wrote about a man who works in a retirement home filled with many characters in their 80s and 90s.

The creator of "The Office" mockumentary said the new program featured flawed characters like the ones that were hallmarks of his earlier works, but was "sweeter."

"It's a show about kindness first and foremost," Gervais told reporters and TV critics on Wednesday at a meeting of the Television Critics Association.

"There's some more dramatic moments than 'The Office' or 'Extras,'" his show about actors looking for a big break, he added. "It's sweeter. It still has the existentialism of 'The Office.' There are still characters being daft, silly, or nice."

The show, which has already aired in Britain, will be released this spring on Netflix Inc, the subscription video service available in the United States, Canada, Latin America and parts of Europe.

"Derek" stirred controversy in Britain when some critics complained that Gervais' character, Derek Noakes, appeared to have a disability and was being mocked.

Gervais has denied Noakes is disabled or that he was being cruel, describing his character as "innocent, he's childlike, and he's in awe of the world. He does the right thing. He doesn't think about it."

Gervais famously skewered the top names in Hollywood during three hosting gigs at the Golden Globe awards, one of the industry's biggest celebrations of film and television.

Gervais said he conceived the Derek Noakes character more than a decade ago and thought about making him an autograph seeker, putting him in a setting that would provide another chance to satirize celebrity culture. But he decided against it, placing Noakes instead in a retirement home after being inspired by family members who work as caregivers.

"I've got the swipes at fame and all those things out of the system, I think, and now it's about things that really matter."

Gervais said he will not attend this year's Golden Globes ceremony on Sunday because he is starting work on the next "Muppets" movie. But he does miss the hosting gig.

"To be the most feared man in Hollywood for three hours is such fun," he said.

(Reporting By Lisa Richwine, editing by Jill Serjeant and Christopher Wilson)

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