ITV's Jackson plays Network Makeover game


There's a new TV reality format in the U.K. that has the media world on both sides of the Atlantic sitting up and taking notice. It's called Network Makeover. The version that all eyes are on at the moment is playing out at ITV, where network bosses are looking to reconstruct ITV's programming image.

It's proving to be a tough task as reality TV's celebrity fees climb to the stars and audiences continue to fragment.

The man charged with carrying out the mission is legendary British entertainment executive Paul Jackson, who was wooed back from his post as CEO of L.A.-based Granada America 15 months ago to serve as head of ITV's entertainment division. A former entertainment chief at the BBC prior to his L.A. stint, Jackson is credited with a career full of hits -- including "The Young Ones" and "Three of a Kind" for the BBC -- and this week talked about the brow-mopping experience of this latest venture.

"The feeling was that the network had become a little 'oversafe,' and Simon Shaps (ITV's director of television) was determined to clear some space and put some new shows in place," he says.

"There's an interesting paradigm here, because as the broadcast environment becomes more crowded and revenues diminish -- as they are for networks across the Western world -- artists like Simon (Cowell) and Ant & Dec (the U.K.'s top TV stars) become invaluable," he says. "And so these big entertainment/reality shows are beginning to edge up to where our drama prices are."

But Jackson has been forging ahead nonetheless with a potpourri of new programming that has been breaking through the clutter. "Britain's Got Talent," presented by Ant & Dec, premiered June 9 as a strip and has been a breakout for the network. The series follows the same format as "America's Got Talent" and is the creation of "American Idol" judge Cowell, who also is one of the judges on the new ITV show. "It built (in audience share) every night over nine nights, so we do think we have a hit here," Jackson says.

Then there was the one-night-only appearance of Sanjeev Bhaskar, star of British hit "The Kumars at No. 42," in a new comedy concept titled "Mumbai Calling." ITV is in talks about developing the comedy as a new series following positive audience feedback. The plot sees Bhaskar cast as Kenny Gupta, a middle-class, English, twentysomething suburbanite who is packed off to India to run his company's newly acquired call center in Mumbai.

"A big thing for ITV was to get back to some really good comedy back on the network," Jackson says. There was a dearth of sitcoms on the network that appealed to British audiences, and that's because it's "just so hard to produce," he confesses.

But he has high hopes for "Mumbai Calling" and also is looking brightly to a second season of "Benidorm," featuring a cast that includes some of the best comedy talent in the U.K. "We are also looking for big Saturday-night entertainment that is not reality-based and not talent contest-based. But that is proving much more difficult."

On the drama front, Jackson also is placing a lot of focus on a series he is personally developing with Sri Lankan actress Anoja Dias, called "Under Five," which is based on her memoirs. "Under Five" tells of Dias' first year trying to make it in the venal world of Hollywood. The plot utilizes her true-life experiences as the template for the drama. The series is in script development at Jaffe/Braunstein for Granada America.