Michael Grade has hit out at the “febrile” speculation over ITV’s difficulties in recruiting new leaders, insisting that the broadcaster is merely going through the typical “ups and downs” of senior recruitment.
Grade told the House of Lords Communications Committee that he was unconcerned by the stories that have appeared in the media since he announced his plans to stand down as executive chairman seven months ago.
Following ITV’s fall-out with favoured chief executive candidate Tony Ball, two widely touted candidates to replace Grade as chairman - Sir Crispin Davis and Sir Michael Bishop - ruled themselves out this week.
Once ITV appoints someone as non-executive chairman, Grade will leave and chief operating officer John Cresswell will become interim chief executive. Cresswell will then leave ITV once a permanent chief executive is found.
Grade told the committee: “In any succession process, you go through all kinds of ups and downs, and this is no different. What’s different is that there is round-by-round commentary going on because the media is utterly self-obsessed. All this febrile speculation and hypothesis is rumour presented as fact.”
Grade said that he would not be meeting the candidates and would not be playing a part in the appointment process.
In a largely upbeat mood, Grade insisted the leadership battle was a sideshow that would make no difference to viewers.
“I feel like I’m living in a parallel universe - we’ve not had bigger business in years. ITV’s even got a comedy hit [Benidorm],” he said.
Grade also insisted that homegrown drama was still a priority for ITV1, despite cutting the number of drama hours per week from eight to seven and axing some hits, including Wire In The Blood and Kingdom.
He noted that in 2008, drama still accounted for half of the channel’s total programme budget, excluding staples such as regional news, and that it had dipped only slightly, to 47.5%, in 2009.
However, he admitted to have been disappointed that ITV1’s period drama Wuthering Heights would only just cover its costs.