Only last summer his predecessor Charles Allen was booted out of the chief exec chair. Ad revenues had gone into freefall and the channel was getting it in the neck for churning out an endless stream of reality shows and soaps. Hence Grade’s stated priority: ‘to put our house in order’. This includes spending £1bn this year on its various TV channels, and seeking some high-profile appointments: Dawn Airey, Channel Five’s launch controller, as head of ITV’s production business; and advertising veteran Rupert Howell, as commercial director. The aim? To double revenues to £1.2bn in five years.
But if Grade is talking of getting the house in order, he can expect more than just a light spring clean – chez ITV is more like the kind of post-knees up disaster area you’d expect to see on an old Yellow Pages ad. You only have to look at GMTV’s recent phone-in scandal, in which over a period of four years viewers were paying £1.80 a pop to enter a competition they had no hope of winning. Regulator Ofcom is expected to reward ITV’s misdemeanour with a record fine, estimated at between £2.8m and £3.6m. ITV’s late-night phone-in quiz shows, ITV Play, will now be axed by the end of the year.
More recently, Jim Davidson, the self-proclaimed ‘non-PC fossil’ was booted off reality show Hell’s Kitchen for calling a fellow contestant a ‘shirt-lifter’ – an incident that’s depressing in too many ways to even bear thinking about.
But the BBC is hardly in the public’s good books right now either, having had its own phone-in scandals and receiving a roasting for the merit of its programming. Grade may therefore stand a chance of achieving his aim of being top for free entertainment. That said, going down to the launderette to watch the machines spin still doesn’t cost anything. And compared with much of ITV’s output, it’s a lot more intellectually stimulating.