Tuesday, 20 April 2010


Long time since the last time I spleened my vent on telly and apologies, oh several of you interbloggeteers.

I heard that thanks to the volcanic ash "chaos" telly giant RDF had to hire a fishing boat to retrieve twenty executives from the Mipcom TV festival in Cannes. I immediately pitched the format "How Sunk Is My Boat?" to every broadcaster, a reality format where the rabid execs are denied basic rights like Blackberry access and the repeated use of the word 'I', waiting to see which goes mad first and jumps overboard. Will it be Head of International Formats, or Head of Formats (International)?!?!? A must-miss series!!!

Err.. where was I?

Oh yes, well family was visiting and they had a look around the office where my company is currently housed. Best quote from sister-in-law: "God it's all so complicated - watching your shows... I just thought it'd be simple". My lightning sharp retort: "No, it's not the shows that are simple, it's me!". Much hilarity then ensued.

One of the things they asked is about 'the executives', the mysterious people in the clouds who decide on whether we've done Proper Good or Pooey Bad. It's a common question - my role is usually as an exec producer, as I hire Proper Good people to make the show and they tell me to bugger off when I'm being Pooey Bad. As the MD of the company I obviously spend a lot of time doing the money side, contracts, thinking up ideas, trying to win commissions, managing the day-to-day stuff and that, so the current production is usually something I try and add to when I can and leave well alone when running nicely.

It's interesting that in UK tv we tend to go up to exec producer and then kinda stop. OK, there are heads of this department and that one in big hundreds-strong indies, and the BBC has a byzantine structure all of its own, but the biggest credit you ever see on a show is exec producer. It's the top of the tree.

And what is up there, in the clouds above the mere series, senior, associate, assistant and line producers down below...?

In some bigger indies, in the olden days, the execs basically were charged to a show a few days a week for three reasons. Firstly, they'd helped think it up. Secondly, they were big mates - or business associates - with the onscreen talent. Or thirdly, they had a big fat wage and had to be paid somehow.

Sometimes they'd do some work on the show, sometimes they hardly ever even watched it - all entirely random to most observers but dependent on their personality, workload or basic brass neck in doing bugger all and being paid £150K per annum for it. Don't get me wrong, some were stunningly bright and could solve what seemed like an impossible problem with a seemingly off-the-cuff remark. Others were better off confined to quarters as they either had no social skills and scared the shite out of the staff, or were the total opposite and would sit and chat away all day to everyone and nothing would get done at all.

(One fearsome exec once barked to a Very Famous Bloke Out of EastEnders who'd come in randomly to see me with a programme idea: "You auditioned for (INSERT NAME OF BIGGEST SHOW WE MADE HERE), didn't you? You were the shittest presenter we've ever tried. And that's fuckin' saying something. HA!" and wandered off chuckling. Mr EastEnders sat open-mouthed. Luckily my co-producer - a very posh, well-spoken lady - said "what a c*nt" under her breath and we all howled)

In smaller indies, people were put down as execs because they owned a bit of the company. What a combination - completely lacking in any creative skills (apart from cooking the books) and yet being present and throwing ideas in all the time. One genuinely suggested that we replaced the person playing the giant God-like head that appeared in our successful show with Stephen Hawking. That is, a dismembered head of a talking, emoting person was replaced by a man who can't move any of his features on his face. The only thing on screen was a non-moving face. I said we could cut out a photo and use that and got frowned at.

In US companies people down on our credits as execs are all SVPs - senior vice presidents. Senior and vice must cancel each other out, surely? But if you just said president people would think you were Obama, I s'pose. That's why the big bosses are CEOs.

Anyway, my own interpretation of being an exec is to try and make the people who work on the show feel happy. A bit royal visity sometimes ("what you doing today then, hmm?") but it jollies things along. And, let's be honest, there are much worse jobs in the world than jollying things along.