As well as minding its Mersey TV shows, Jonathan Young has been asked to develop returning drama series for Channel 4. Alice Macandrew reports.
Five years ago the appointment of someone like Jonathan Young to a senior position in the Channel 4 drama department would have been unthinkable.

A producer with credits including BBC 1 long-running series EastEnders and Casualty recruited to the cutting-edge post of commissioning editor drama series at C4? Surely not? Yet no-one at Horseferry Road seems to have batted an eyelid at his appointment last week.

Brookside creator Phil Redmond has no doubts. He's one of 'the best appointments C4 has made in years', is his verdict. But then Redmond is somewhat biased, given that Young will be the first executive in C4 drama with a specific remit to look after his flagging shows Brookside and Hollyoaks.

Redmond adds that C4 has needed someone to develop returning series, Young's other priority in his newly created position, for some time. But this will come as a shock to some. The idea of a returning series is a new ball game to C4, which in its 17-year history has focused on high-profile, short-run serials or one-off drama, with the notable exception of its Mersey TV soaps.

According to Shed Productions' Brian Park - soap guru and producer of ITV's Bad Girls - the channel's decision is sensible. 'There is a vast fertile ground for C4 to explore in returnable series,' he insists.

A successful series that can be brought back every year has the potential to pull in a new audience by establishing itself as a signature show for the channel - the Holy Grail for which many argue that C4 drama chief Gub Neal is still searching after almost two years in the job.

It would also boost C4's audience. The minority station achieved an average share of 11.8 per cent last year, lagging behind BBC 2's 12.9 per cent. But does more renewable drama mean a move into the mainstream for C4?

Not according to Park: 'There are plenty of new things to be done in multi-episodic dramas. It is just more difficult and you need to be a seasoned practitioner to do it.'

If that's what it takes, Jonathan Young is your man. Described as 'extremely capable' by a former colleague, he started at the BBC in 1985 as a location manager on East-Enders before moving up through the ranks to direct and produce an impressive list of popular dramas, most recently BBC 1's Holby City. He has also directed Hollyoaks and Brookside so he knows what makes C4 series tick.

Keeping an eye on Hollyoaks and Brookside should be relatively straightforward, Young argues, despite the slump in the latter's ratings over the past couple of years.

'There is already a considerable body of expertise on these shows,' he says. 'It is a question of liaising and communicating what the C4 audience wants from them.'

But the real challenge will be coming up with new shows, with Young aiming to develop 20 hours of returnable drama over the next two years. 'C4 has no history in this area so I'll be starting from scratch,' he admits.

'There is a lot to be done just finding out what makes certain formats succeed and how they could work for C4.'

So will C4 viewers be submerged under a raft of blue-flashing light drama?

Well maybe. Young argues that despite the channel's remit to be distinctive, there is no reason not to venture into the tried-and-tested genres of police, medical and legal series, as long as they are approached from a fresh angle.

With the C4 drama budget more than doubling in two years, Young has the cash. What's even better is that he has plenty of scope - given that the reasoning behind his appointment is to give Neal the freedom to take a more strategic overview of drama output.

Neal's deputy Catriona McKenzie, also takes on more responsibility with promotion to commissioning editor with a remit over shorter serials.

But any suggestion that these appointments leave the department top-heavy with executives is denied by Redmond, who says Neal has been overstretched in the past 18 months. 'Young is a very welcome appointment,' he insists.

Jonathan Young (above) believes there has long been a need for someone with a remit to keep an eye on Mersey TV shows such as Brookside (left) and Hollyoaks. 'With well over 100 hours a year, they represent a huge chunk of the C4 drama budget,' he says.