Six years of hits, misses and fact ent triumphs
At a keynote address at the Realscreen Summit in January, Channel 4 chief creative officer Jay Hunt recalled “the daunting task of turning things around” upon her appointment in 2011.
Her challenge was filling the 200 peaktime hours vacated by Big Brother across the main channel and E4, and to alight on a new identity.
Hunt’s strategy was to put factual and factual entertainment at the heart of C4’s output, and stick with fledgling shows despite some of them delivering underwhelming initial performances.
In terms of fact ent, that produced a slate including Gogglebox, First Dates and The Island, which remain key, channel-defining formats.
In factual, her big bet was on fixed rig shows. Having inherited One Born Every Minute and 24 Hours in A&E, Hunt doubled down on the production technique and extended it to include the likes of 24 Hours in Police Custody, Educating… and many others.
Under her leadership, the broadcaster began blurring formats by encouraging commissioners from different departments to collaborate.
The channel-defining coverage of the 2012 Paralympics was delivered out of an expanded entertainment department, which also oversees Formula 1 coverage and charity fundraiser Stand Up to Cancer.
Hunt did not take the decision to secure the Paralympics rights, but adopted a very hands-on approach during the London event.
At the same time, C4 grew Open Mike’s fledgling topical comedy show The Last Leg into a returning brand entertainment brand with disability at its heart.
Elsewhere entertainment has proved tougher for C4, although Twofour’s The Jump has become successful and long-standing (unlike many of its competitors).
C4 stuck to its guns through the extreme press furore around Benefits Street in 2014. The show delivered massive ratings, but Hunt and the broadcaster were attacked for producing poverty porn.
C4 stood shoulder to shoulder with producer Love Productions, which subsequently played a part in the indie’s decision to take The Great British Bake Off to C4 – although a £75m cheque didn’t hurt either.
Landing that show on C4 with a new presenting team will be Hunt’s biggest remaining challenge.
Hunt recognised that establishing a strong scripted slate would take longer to complete but it too has resulted in hits including Kudos’ Humans and the critically acclaimed Flowers.
Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s Catastrophe has been the standout comedy, although mainstream success has been harder to find.
There have been less-than-memorable flops along the way –The Mad Bad Ad Show or Hotel GB – and controversial decisions such as axing Caitlin Moran’s Raised by Wolves a month before it won a Rose D’Or.
Black Mirror was lost to Netflix, Noel Edmonds’ Deal or No Deal was dropped after 3,000 episodes, and there is still uncertainty over quite what C4 will do with Keo’s social experiment Eden.
But Hunt’s time running C4 programming is best seen a developing narrative.
The early years were toughest, and relations with the indie sector became tense, but the channel really hit its straps in 2015 and 2016, when it was named Broadcast’s channel of the year.
A new chief executive will now appoint Hunt’s successor and that duo will lead the broadcaster into a fresh period of creative renewal.