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Danny Cohen, director of television at the BBC, on Tuesday announced his decision to leave the U.K. public broadcaster at the end of November.
“After eight wonderful years at the BBC, it is time for my next big challenge,” he said in sharing the news. He has overseen the BBC’s TV channels amid political calls for a modified mandate for the public broadcaster. Under his leadership, the BBC has continued to make and air popular dramas and other programming, with flagship network BBC One remaining the most-watched network in Britain.
BBC director general Tony Hall on Tuesday called the Oxford graduate Cohen “one of TV’s great talents.”
The Hollywood Reporter talked to Cohen about his decision to leave, next career steps, including a possible move to a U.S. company, his BBC legacy and the challenges of working for the British public broadcaster in a time of change.
Why did you decide to leave now?
It’s simply that I feel we have achieved some great things. I’m really proud of the creative success we have had. And it just felt time for a new adventure, for a new leadership challenge. After eight years in one place, it felt time to do something new. I have had a number of offers from the U.S. and U.K. over the last few months, so rather than unsettle my teams here, I decided it’s fairer and more honorable to consider these offers.
I understand you can’t discuss specific offers and approaches, but what are you looking for in any new role?
The key thing for me when I consider what to do next is that it is something that allows me to be very creative and also allows me to keep leading, taking places forward in terms of their digital growth. More than anything else, it’s about finding a place, which allows me to keep being as creative as … at the BBC. I love growing television. I want to keep leading teams to make great television.
Do you think you’ll stay in pure-play TV or could you move into digital entertainment?
I can think about whether I should be purely television, should I be in something that brings together television and the digital world. It’s any of these things really. I am going to consider the approaches I have had. I have not committed to anything, so I’m going to leave here at the end of November and have a really good think about what the right next thing for me is.
I heard that you turned down one approach earlier this year…
Yes, I turned down something from the U.S. in the summer. It just wasn’t the right role for me. When that happened, rumors began on whether I would leave or not. That’s what made me realize the better way of doing it is to leave and then consider some offers. It’s really the unique nature of the BBC. You are under such scrutiny here in a leadership role.
Any thoughts on whether you would rather go work for a U.S. company or stay in the U.K.?
The truth is I am very open-minded about it. It has to be the right creative and leadership opportunity. My wife (economist and author Noreena Hertz) spends a lot of time in America, she’s doing a lot of great things over there, so we are in America a fair amount of time. But I’m open-minded about what country we are in.
Given all the talk about the BBC charter renewal process, government criticism and other challenges for the public broadcaster, how tough or easy has it been to do your job in that environment? How have you handled that?
The key is to focus your teams on their creativity and to focus them on risk-taking and remember that what you care about is the shows you make. The other side isn’t that important to people outside our industry.
What are you most proud about in terms of your time at the BBC? What legacy do you want to leave?
To me what has been key is backing talent, backing risk-taking, backing creativity, backing great television, backing digital disruption. Those are the things that are on my mind most.
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