If the departure of Sir Michael Lyons won’t be mourned by Mark Thompson, Jay Hunt’s decision to jump ship from BBC One to become the new Chief Creative Officer at Channel 4 is a blow to the Director-General.
An ally of Thommo, the DG tried to dissuade her from moving to Five three years ago and soon had her back in the fold at BBC One.
But the Channel 4 appointment does suggest a worryingly shallow talent pool at the top of British broadcasting and a merry-go-round of top posts. With all eyes on top people’s salaries and a base of £400,000 to offer, the Channel 4 board could hardly scour the globe to lure the best that HBO or NBC has to offer.
Although with the C4 job offering a 40 per cent pay rise following the BBC’s crackdown on executive salaries, there could be more Beeb bosses looking for a commercial broadcaster exit.
Jay Hunt’s name was immediately linked to the post after a seamless rise through BBC current affairs, daytime and the briefest of stays as Five Director of programmes.
So with Jay going to Channel 4, the immediate speculation is that Danny Cohen will rise from BBC Three to BBC One after spending his formative years at Channel 4.
He would then follow Jay Hunt back to Channel 4 in 2013, when she moves to take over from Peter Fincham at ITV, before she returns (again) to become BBC Director General in 2016. Jay replaces Julian Bellamy, who of course was poached from BBC Three, after leaving Channel 4…and so it goes on.
When Hunt returned to run BBC One in 2008, it had had been revitalised under predecessors Lorraine Heggessey and Peter Fincham, after Greg Dyke had opened the funding tap for new drama.
Inheriting ratings winners Doctor Who and The One Show, Hunt commissioned the challenging dramas Occupation and Five Daughters and put current affairs at prime-time with The Day The Immigrants Left.
She also destabilised Strictly Come Dancing with the Arlene/Alesha swopover in an attempt to challenge the X Factor head-on and allowed the Chiles/Bleakley One Show negotiations to reach a point where both left.
And there’s no been no let up from the tyranny of Waterloo Road/Holby City, banal dramas which the next Controller will have to sweep away, if he or she has the courage.
Although AA Gill may have been a little harsh when he described Hunt’s BBC One in the Sunday Times as “an uninspiring, predictable, repetitive, grey list of creakily formulaic and rote-made anaemic entertainment.”
David Abraham, the Channel 4 boss, says he has found a “fearless creative leader to help steer us through our next phase”. Hunt has demonstrated “across a variety of public service genres as well as in commercial television, her appetite to challenge the status quo, create and lead change, and promote new talent.”
Hunt has to lead Channel 4′s programming into the post-Big Brother future and she has to do so on a budget of £500 million, half her guaranteed BBC programming capital.
And there’s no shiny-floor, studio talent shows or Doctor Whos to pull out of the bag, or a Stephen Moffat to revitalise a classic drama brand.
Some say Hunt didn’t enjoy the public scrutiny over every licence-fee penny spent at BBC One. But Channel 4 remains a public body, fighting for its future relevance.
If Channel 4 is to survive, it’s got to be out there taking risks and sometimes causing trouble. Hunt will have to be out on the front-line, defending the broadcaster she loves…until the next job comes along of course.