BBC One Controller: The Candidates


Since Danny Cohen’s abrupt promotion to Director of Television a matter of months ago, The Broadcast Industry has been swimming in speculation as to who would be his replacement. The latest twist has seen Broadcast Magazine name Mark Lindsay the frontrunner in what promises to be a very close race behind closed doors.

On the internet, it’s becoming common to chat on forum sites or in person about the latest what’s what in the broadcast world. And with something like a vacant BBC One Controller position, it’s the equivalent of a General Election for nerdy television geeks.

Here’s the OnTheBox take on: Who should take the lead from Cohen’ success? Who has evidence of an original clear cut vision for BBC One? Who has a strong personality and record to guide the BBC into a new era of broadcasting?

As previously stated, Mark Lindsay is the rumoured frontrunner for BBC One Controller, in what is sure to be a toughly fought race deep within the bowels of BBC headquarters – Wherever they may be right now. But who are the other candidates who are as qualified to guide BBC One further into the unknown. A future full of uncertainty, battling the growth of digital television on one side, with the competition from Netflix and the internet’s steady dominance to also contend with.

One must ask if Mark Lindsay is a man capable of taking BBC One to the next level? Looking at his record, the only programme capable of raising eyebrows is his purchase of international hit The Voice, the singing sensation popular around the world. But here in the UK, its popularity is small compared to the waves it’s making in other countries.

And with a disappointing 5.9 million this past Saturday, BBC executives might think twice before handing the big keys over to a man who has little success in the entertainment genre, whilst Cohen has had multiple genre hits during the three years he has steered the ship at BBC One.

One possible candidate was one that presented a far superior portfolio, with a vast selection of shows popular with audiences, as well as the critics circle too. That man: Ben Stephenson. The current controller of BBC Drama has played his part in making Danny Cohen’s three years at BBC One the huge success it was.

Commissioning shows such as Luther, Call The Midwife, White Heat & In The Flesh, his record for strong British drama has made him worthy of fronting BBC One in its entirety. But given that his career has always been connected to drama, it’s no wonder Stephenson turned the job down. It maybe that it’s too much outside his comfort zone, or that he would miss the power he currently wields as a known commissioner of acclaimed British drama.

This now turns our attention to Janice Hadlow. The current controller of BBC Two is all set and ready to swap channels, and steer a bigger ship within the BBC. BBC One could be a great fit for Hadlow. Her record of strong, intelligent and awe-inspiring programming on BBC Two makes her name shine above most others. With shows such as The Great British Bake Off, The Shadow Line, Twenty Twelve and many others definitely signalling her as one to watch.

The only downside for Hadlow is the decline of audience share for BBC year on year. Currently standing at 5.2 – down 1.4 percent this time last year – it’s a worrying thought that could prevent her from taking that crucial promotion. BBC One has managed to do the almost impossible in 2013 and see its audience share go up. This is due to the enormous success of the London Olympic Games, as well as the painful yet plausible decision in removing The CBBC block from the daytime schedule, thus increasing daytime shares massively.

These risks were somewhat orchestrated by Cohen, in an effort to make daytime a bit a more competitive and insert a creative lineup for the relevant audiences watching the BBC. Somewhat surprisingly, the risk paid off, but with the sacrifice of children’s television to the depths of the digital television menus. Regardless, the risk was a success, which may have made Director General Tony Hall’s job a little easier when locating his new Director of Television.

Returning to Hadlow, for her to really be the frontrunner of this job, Tony Hall needs to find something in her that will convince him that she is worthy of harnessing a tighter ship for the next few years. Her strong variety of programming for BBC Two, seems to be a strong factor in securing that job.

Other candidates are also plausible, but with the three above mentioned and the most likely, according to media sources, these are just names to be tossed around, rather than seriously considered.

Charlotte Moore currently resides as the Acting Controller for BBC One, whilst those at the top currently weigh their options, but if she does something extraordinary during the temporary time, she might want to get comfortable.

Zai Bennett is the current controller of BBC Three, who took over from Danny Cohen himself in 2010. Perhaps he could follow the same pathway? Sadly not, as he himself has ruled out the job, determined to finish what he started at BBC Three.

Elaine Bedell is another candidate with her eye on the job, but one has to wonder whether running The Edinburgh International Television Festival, and heading Comedy & Entertainment at ITV, is really worth risking for a position in the BBC.

Another rumoured candidate according to Broadcast is former BBC Three controller Julian Bellamy, who is now helming Discovery networks as the head of international production. If given the job, he may receive a pay cut, which begs the question of whether he’s willing to possess such broadcasting power, but for less money than his predecessors.

It’s no secret the BBC has been hit hard by the Tories, is taking a pay cut a credible sacrifice?

As time tumbles onwards, and the BBC brain trust make their choice, one thing remains clear: the person picked has an immense task ahead of them. Whoever that is, must stand separate from Cohen’s vision and programming, and give BBC One a new direction, whilst maintaining the strong audience and appreciation of the great British people and beyond.