New controller defends ‘ratings chasing’ BBC1

Liz Thomas

Peter Fincham, the newly appointed BBC1 controller, has promised to bring more focus to mainstream comedy and wide-ranging drama on the channel but added he would not rule out commissioning reality shows such as Strictly Come Dancing and Celebrity Fame Academy.

In what is effectively a job swap with Lorraine Heggessey, Fincham, the outgoing chief executive of independent producer Talkback Thames, takes over the role at a difficult time for the Corporation as thousands of staff face redundancy and budgets are tightened. The BBC also came under fire in the recent government green paper on Charter renewal for ratings-chasing and ‘copycat’ programming.

Fincham said: “A lot of programmes, emerge from or are in the tradition of things that have gone before. Strictly Come Dancing is a good example. It’s dangerous to say we’re not going to do that again.” He added that he would not take the channel down a road that abandoned the mainstream or populist shows. “I know I will be asked about chasing ratings. Well I certainly want to chase success. BBC1 needs to be a successful channel,” he said.

The first non-Corporation trained person since Michael Grade to be asked to run BBC1, Fincham was in charge of more than 800 hours of programming at Talkback. He was also executive producer of comedy shows such as Da Ali G Show and I’m Alan Partridge and is keen to continue that commitment to the genre.

He said: ” Comedy is a tough genre in the modern age to launch on mainstream channels. I think it’s important to have comedy on BBC1. I will want to bring a lot of focus the genre.”

Commending the development of Little Britain from radio, to BBC3 and then the main station he warned it was important not to become reliant on this sort of flow. “I don’t think BBC1 comedy can or should depend on that supply chain. We need to find the new comedies that can play straight to a mainstream audience,” he added.

He also acknowledged that audiences expect the channel to produce a high quantity of drama and stressed the importance of developing both continuing drama series – such as well as one-off dramas – such as Stephen Poliakoff’s The Lost Prince in order to provide viewers with a full range of shows that appeal.

The Corporation has been heavily criticised for buying up top talent from other broadcasters – such as Graham Norton and Dom Joly – at licence feepayers’ expense and failing to capitalise on the deal. Fincham refuted the claim, adding that stars have always moved between channels. He cited Morcambe and Wise, who switched between the two main channels throughout their careers.

He said: “That’s never going to stop. BBC1 of course wants big talent. Graham Norton is a great talent and will play a central role on BBC1. And I’m not here to say there will be no programmes with celebrities on BBC1 – we have just had Celebrity Fame Academy for Comic Relief.”

Fincham is expected to officially take over from Heggessey in the summer when she moves to Talkback as its new chief executive.

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