The Fast Track to the Top Job? 

24 April 2013

This week has seen Danny Cohen appointed as new BBC Director General Tony Hall’s Director of Television, following on from the appointment of James Harding as Head of BBC News. With Cohen’s rise to a place in the senior management team of the BBC almost as meteoric as his rise to prominence among senior television executives already.

Cohen’s earlier career was spent at Channel 4, including Head of Factual Entertainment, Head of Documentaries and also being the first channel controller of E4 when it launched in 2001. During his time with Channel 4, a number of successful commissionsincluding Supernanny and also The Inbetweeners helped the channel get a foothold in the congested multi-channel market of the early millenium. During this tenure, with the ammount of success that he hadso far that would move onto bigger things, when a move to BBC Three to replace the outgoing Stuart Murphy meant that Cohen had gone to the corporation to advance his career with so many future chances open to him.

In his three year reign as controller of BBC Three, he had achieved a 58% share among the 16-34 age group and also adding viewers beyond the group as well, with smart acquisitions from Summer Heights High from Australia and also inheriting Family Guy from its original BBC slot on BBC Two and in the process raising the programme’s appeal making it one of the channel most popular programmes. With all the success that Cohen was having, The Times described him in an article in February 2008 as “the boy wonder of British television” and even in 2009 when the Royal Television Society’s magazine mused if Cohen could be Director General of the BBC by his early-forties.

With the success that he has accrued so far, it was little wonder when he took over as Controller of BBC One in 2010 and almost straight away with the commission of ‘Call The Midwife’, the channel had its biggest rating drama series since the turn of the millennium. Even later formats which had been brought in have started to bear fruit with The Voice providing a backbone to Saturday nights during the spring as well as the continuation of Strictly Come Dancing in the autumn and also the on going success of Doctor Who.

For his actions during his three years as Controller of BBC One, has seen him have similar success as with Michael Grade when he became controller of the channel in 1984 and also with echoes of Bill Cotton Jnr. during the late 1970’s and early 80’s. Both of which did also go on to become Directors of Television at the BBC, with Cotton becoming Managing Director of Television later on.

Though there are also parallels with another former Director ofTelevision, the former Director General Mark Thompson. Thompsonwho started at the BBC himself rising up through the ranks and became Controller of BBC Two rather then BBC One but eventuallybeing risen to a senior management position himself before leaving for Channel 4 and coming back to the BBC as Director General when Greg Dyke left that position.

Thompson’s reign has been seen as ruthless by some and also with him being more of a Chief Executive rather then a Director General, concentrating more on the business aspects rather then the broadcasting ones. Cohen himself has found the popular touchwith programmes but it is yet to been seen if he will turn intoan autocrat doing the senior management role with no time to help any new potential controller of BBC One in keeping the channel as one the most watched.

Conventional wisdom say that Zai Bennett, the current head of BBC Three and another of the younger channel controllers will take over at BBC One from Cohen, where as Cohen freshened up the channel whoever takes over from him when he starts his new job as Director of Television on the 7th of May, they will have the task of staying ahead of a rapidly improving ITV. But it will be seen if whether a bright young thing will be chosen again or if the BBC would keep continuity to keep the status quo of same programmes, different controller and that itself will be test of strength for the BBC and its new senior management team.

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