ITV controller of factual Bridget Boseley has faced scrutiny over ITV flops such as Fat Families and The Real Good Life, but she remains upbeat that she can pull off new ideas in peaktime.
Bridget Boseley does not conform to the stereotype of your average television executive. No displays of smooth self-confidence or bravado here but an admission of how nervous she is about having the spotlight turned on her. Her trepidation may well stem from the fact that the past 18 months haven't been the easiest for the factual controller. Like her counterparts in entertainment, Boseley has been subjected to the ruthless ITV axe which has quickly chopped underperforming shows from the schedule. While entertainment has suffered recently with flops such as Celebrity Wrestling, the factual department has had to face up to the disappointments of Fat Families and The Real Good Life. In June The Real Good Life was pulled after two episodes, getting 2.3 million (12%) on its final peaktime outing and Fat Families was pulled after one episode, getting 2.1 million (10%). Both shows were up against Holby City on BBC1 between 8pm and 9pm, which Boseley partly blames on their failure. Boseley, who took the role about two years ago, says: "There was a time on ITV when these shows could have worked, but it is getting harder to play gentle observational product. We are now looking for bolder ideas in terms of scale and ambition to have the impact we need on ITV." She adds that the length of time between commission and broadcast for a programme like The Real Good Life meant that by the time it aired, ITV's requirements had shifted. "The landscape is changing so quickly and you notice that on some of our shows," she says. "Factual shows can date very quickly." Boseley's career in television has been varied, beginning with a 10-year stint at the BBC where she became series producer on BBC2's Rough Guide, before moving to the factual department at BBC Manchester. She then crossed over to Yorkshire TV where she was controller of features and credited with being the driving force behind the successful 100-best list shows. But as a producer she was probably unaware of just how frustrating the delays and internal machinations of the ITV schedule can be. "It is not as flexible as we would like," she concedes. However, Fat Families and The Real Good Life will get a full run on ITV, both being lined up to go out in a tea-time slot on Sunday in the coming weeks. So not all has been lost. Following the Fat Families/Real Good Life affair she is not currently looking for any more half-hour pieces going out from 8pm to 9pm, instead the idea is to get big-hitting one-hour pieces to play there. Boseley adds that there will be consumer programmes like the revamped Package Holiday Undercover and House of Horrors in the slot and a new factual brand called Real Families, which puts a documentary strand back into ITV peaktime. But for all the theorising about the 8pm to 9pm factual slots it is the 9pm to 10pm part of the schedule which Boseley seems particularly preoccupied with. It could be said to be the area of her greatest hits and misses. The slot came into sharp focus last year when both Trouble in Paradise and The Block flopped, much to the bafflement of Network Centre where the consensus was that these were good shows. Yet The Block dipped down to 2.3 million and Trouble in Paradise failed to break the 3 million mark. Boseley admits: "When you have figures like that, there is a real element of soul searching. I think both concepts were quite difficult to get across. What I have learnt is that the concept needs to be easily sellable in on-air marketing terms and the title needs to be absolutely crystal clear about what it is." Boseley clearly believes that the 9pm window ups the ante for factual programming on ITV. She says: "At 9pm if things don't work on ITV they are immediately off, they have no time to build. It is heart-breaking when that happens, because clearly a lot of people have put a lot of work into it, but if the audience doesn't go for it, then it doesn't." She points out that with the expansion of soaps The Bill and Coronation Street and with Tonight with Trevor McDonald going out twice a week in an 8pm slot, there are limited slots to do much factual before 9pm. "That means you have to try factual at 9pm which obviously raises the bar on the show and what it has got to do. In an ideal world I would be happier if I had more opportunities before 9pm to try shows," she says. There have been strong hits at 9pm however, particularly of late, with shows like RDF's Holiday Showdown averaging 5.1 million viewers in its latest outing (24% share) and the company's other show, Ladette to Lady, averaging 4.6 million. Equally, Britain's Youngest Mums and Dads with 7.1 million viewers (29%) and Twenty Twenty's boot camp show Bad Lads' Army, which got over 6 million and has been spun off into Bad Lads' Army: Officer Class, were clear winners at 9pm. For One Night Only, the show which featured groups of people throwing themselves into challenges, such as teachers becoming Moulin Rouge-style dancers, has also been commissioned for another four-part outing, after it won more than 4 million. She is also keen to stress the importance of keeping "banker" shows like Airline strong, which recently got nearly 7 million in a 7.30pm slot. However, Boseley's role is far wider than formatted documentaries and docu-soaps and she says she is keen to push ITV into new areas of specialist factual and is committed to a "diversity" of output. ITV's best example of this has been Deep Jungle, which was its first blue-chip natural history programme since the demise of Survival in 2001. But as many observers commented, for all the achievements of the show, it somehow looked out of place in the ITV1 schedule. Says Boseley: "I agree that an offering like Deep Jungle does look sort of odd sitting in a schedule with other completely different kinds of programming. But in a way that is what ITV has always been best at, offering a variety and mix to the viewer." She claims that Deep Jungle, despite its fairly average ratings, was a success, both in terms of publicity and the number of ABC1 male viewers. She has now lined up an ambitious natural history series for next year called Prehistoric Park, transporting wildlife presenter Nigel Marven back in time to rescue prehistoric animals from extinction. Then there is the history/stunt special The Real Gunpowder Plot from Darlow Smithson, which as well as looking at the Guy Fawkes story, will also blow up a replica of the original Houses of Parliament. And despite getting burnt on a small number of shows, Boseley says she will not shy away from taking further risks. "Everything that you do, that you haven't done before feels risky. But I suppose my view is that we have got to keep trying some new things. "If you believe in the product and the quality of the product, you just have to put it out there and see if the audience is into it as well." FACT FILE Education: Developmental psychology degree, University of Sussex First TV job: on the BBC Open Air team then into Janet Street-Porter's "yoof" department Home: Southwell, Nottinghamshire Favourite programme: West Wing, Coronation Street Extravagance: Taxis and flowers.