Part Four

Jack Kibble-White takes on BBC2

First published August 2001

I was issued with the following wild cards

1. A child is hurt at Robot Wars Live.

This one seemed pretty easy to me. It would, of course depend on the seriousness of the injury, but presuming the child was hurt badly the only course of action open would be to pull the programme immediately. In addition I would ensure that the presenters were fully briefed not to discuss the matter with the press. Noel Edmonds’ treachery over The Late Late Breakfast Show had cost the Corporation a Director General and I was not keen to find myself sacrificed due to similar indiscretions.

2. You buy a hit new US series which is bundled with three flops you must schedule.

Once again this one was straightforward. The post-RDA slot would provide a sufficiently deep grave in which to bury these three flops.

3. BBC2 must find two non-cookery primetime vehicles for Jamie Oliver.

From his own programmes it is obvious that Oliver is not cut out to assume a traditional presenter’s role and so I could not realistically foresee him hosting – for example – a chat show. So, I guess a captain of a team on a panel quiz; in which case bye bye Sean Hughes on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. Oliver is also known for his love of an active social life and so my second vehicle for his talents would be some kind of lifestyle blaggers guide programme.

4. A scenery worker strike means all live programmes from television centre are cancelled, and some future programmes postponed.  What would you schedule as replacements, and why?

Well much of Michael Grade’s time at LWT and BBC1 was dogged by union disputes, so my first inclination would be to move as many live shows outside London as possible so as not to capitulate to the picketers. BBC Manchester could host Robot Wars Live and Pebble Mill could produce both Later … and The RDA. You Are Here could be broadcast from BBC Glasgow and of course we could look upon other London based studios to mount broadcasts that had to come from the capital city. Whilst naturally sympathetic towards union action, I felt that in my capacity as Controller of BBC2 I would be likely to be suspicious of such activity and thus felt it important in that context to ensure any disruption was minimised and my stance remained defiant.

Having completed the formal presentations, we retired to rejig our schedules and discuss potential clashes. My first moves were to restore Sunday Grandstand and to extend the duration of the daily schools service by 90 minutes. Also whilst giving my presentation it had occurred to me just how little religious programming I had scheduled so I quickly found room for an extra hour and half per week. Another easy response to criticism saw Gardener’s World moving from its provisioned weekday slot back to Friday early evening, and At Last – Friday! was replaced with BBC1′s Good Driver.

Having completed these modifications with minimum impact, my next priority was to look again at the talent I had assembled to front my innovative new schedule. Throughout the course of the presentations it had become clear that not only had certain scheduling techniques become popular (for example, stripping and stranding and starting programmes on the hour or half-hour), but so too had particular programme ideas and presenters. Thus, more than one channel had plumped for a “What’s on” style programme, and David Aaronovitch could be caught on Sunday nights on BBC1 talking about the arts and on Channel 4 on Wednesday discussing much the same thing in a programme about television. Whilst these schedules had been compiled in isolation, it was interesting to note the seeming paucity of capable presenters on British screens. Dermot O’Leary, Robert Llewellyn, Johnny Ball, Andy Crane, Sir David Frost, Danny Baker, Bob Mills and even Jeremy Bowen all found themselves scheduled to front programmes on multiple channels. Clearly there must be an √©lite presenting British telly (if not actually running it). Most of my discussions regarding conflicting presenters involved Channel 4 and BBC1 and – in the event – were resolved amicably. Besides, as a result of the negotiations I picked up Late Night Poker (file under “rainy day”) and – something of a coup – the services of Dom Joly.

Thankfully, my pre-emptive strikes on religion, sport and education anticipated much of the criticism that the regulators threw at me. In general they expressed a concern regarding the low volume of programmes specifically designed to address issues of ethnic diversity and gender. Whilst I (and others) felt that the time had passed for schedules to include specific “women’s programmes” it was difficult to counter charges of a lack of representation for minority religious beliefs and multicultural issues.

The degree of stripping and stranding was also raised as a concern, and so I agreed to pare down my weekday 12.30pm repeat of The Family to just two episodes a week, using the free spaces in the schedule to accommodate programmes to address the earlier criticisms, as well as finding a place to address social action.

Once again, I found myself relieved at the comparatively straightforward criticism I had received. My schedules required only one further revision, and finally I was left with something that (whilst perhaps not receiving an enthusiastic response from my peers) at least addressed many of their issues, whilst remaining true to my original intentions for the channel. In the course of the exercise, I had learned a number of things; not only how logistically difficult it is to produce a workable schedule, but also the sacrifices that must be made to diversity in order to create a distinctive channel brand. My final schedule was unarguably weaker than that which graced BBC2, say, five years ago, however I felt it repositioned the channel in such as a way as to give it a fighting chance in a fast changing broadcasting landscape.

<Part Three