The news that BBC Three boss Danny Cohen has been promoted to controller of UK public broadcaster the BBC’s flagship channel BBC One comes as no surprise; despite BBC Vision boss Jana Bennett’s recent assertions that Cohen would continue to run the youth-skewing network, it was obvious to most that he was being primed for the top job.
BBC One controller is a difficult job; such a broad channel means that he will need to bring in exciting new ideas across the schedule to appeal to a large cross section of taxpayers rather than just the 16-34s. Will the decision pan out for the UK public broadcaster? To put it in transatlantic terms, will he be the equivalent of CBS’ Les Moonves, riding high in the ratings, or more like Ben Silverman, who despite being a hugely successful producer didn’t succeed at the NBC network?
As interesting than what Cohen will do with his new £1.13 billion programming budget, is who will replace him at BBC Three. The channel has often been criticised for its young gun-slinging schedule. There has been bottom feeder comedy such as Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps and expensive flops such as talk show Lily Allen and Friends. But it has also produced a number of groundbreaking breakout series including sci-fi drama Being Human, which is currently being remade in the United States, and family comedy Gavin and Stacey, which eventually moved to BBC One, proving BBC Three’s value as a test bed for exciting new content.
A number of names have been mooted as a possible replacement; Bennett is reportedly quite far along the recruitment process despite the timing of the announcement.
BBC daytime controller Liam Keelan is keen to move up within the organisation and is expected to be on the shortlist along with ITV’s head of digital channels Zai Bennett, who has revitalised ITV2 with a mix of UK reality series including What Katie Did Next and The Only Way Is Essex and US acquisitions including Gossip Girl and The Vampire Diaries.
However, there could be a few surprises. E4 boss Angela Jain could be in for a shout following her maternity leave, treading the same path as Cohen, while MTV Networks’ director of television Heather Jones also has similar experience dealing with the youth crowd.
TBI can offer a much more interesting option; rather than offer the job to a safe pair of hands that will attempt to understand what the youth audience wants, they should adopt a Skins-style father and son approach.
Stormdog Films boss Bryan Elsey created Skins with his teenage son Jamie Brittain, who was part of an overall writing team that consisted primarily of teenagers, and the show was lauded for being the most authentic teen series for years.
BBC Three could employ a seasoned executive who knows how to run the nuts and bolts of a TV station, while offering letting a gang of teenagers fresh from school and working in creative industries mastermind the programming. Give them some iPads and the creative freedom to work on fresh, exciting television and they could create a groundbreaking schedule. Such a teen takeover would be controversial but also genuinely progressive, and avoid having a swathe of middle aged TV executive tries to stay hip to the in crowd. Sorted.