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Drama executives behind Downton Abbey Laura Mackie and Sally Haynes quit ITV to set up independent production company

  • @MrNickClark

In a dramatic twist worthy of Downton Abbey’s Christmas episode, the women who commissioned the global hit are to leave ITV to set up on their own, in what has been described as a “huge blow” to the broadcaster.

Laura Mackie, director of drama at ITV, and Sally Haynes, controller of drama commissioning, revealed today they were to leave and set up an independent production company. One industry insider said ITV had been left “in a state of shock”.

They will leave the broadcaster in June after seven years in which they re-built ITV as a destination for quality drama, most notably Downton, the highest rating drama on British television last year.  

Peter Fincham, ITV’s director of television said the pair had “a tremendous run at ITV, and their legacy is an incredibly strong drama slate for 2013 and beyond,” adding: “We're going to miss them.”

Mackie joined ITV as controller of drama commissioning in 2006 from the BBC where she was head of drama serials. She had worked at the corporation with Haynes, who was a senior executive producer, before she too moved to ITV in 2006.

Mackie said today that she and Haynes were “incredibly proud of the dramas we’ve commissioned with Peter. The range of our output from Downton Abbey and Mr Selfridge through to Scott & Bailey and Appropriate Adult are testimony to the ambition of the channel.”

Lisa Campbell, editor of Broadcast, said: “The departure will be a huge blow for ITV as Laura and Sally have spear-headed the broadcaster’s drama renaissance. “

Among the pair’s other commissions were Broadchurch, starring David Tennant, The Bletchley Circle, and Life of Crime. “They will be remembered first and foremost for bringing Downton Abbey to our screens, as well a global success,” Ms Campbell said. “But they’ve also been responsible for a string of new drama hits on ITV1, not least Scott & Bailey which served to reinvent the popular crime genre with its compelling female protagonists.”

One producer who knows Haynes said: “They’ve done incredibly well at ITV and become quite a force in the industry. The channel has had a pretty good run. Not only was Downton an extraordinary hit, it was noticed by the Americans. It will be interesting to see how they do.”

Rumours about their departure began to circulate last year, after reports suggested they were “intrigued” by the challenge of moving to the independent sector.

Steve November, ITV’s head of drama serials, has been named acting director of drama while the broadcaster seeks a full time replacement.

Broadcast’s Ms Campbell added: “Laura and Sally are very popular figures in the industry and have a reputation for being among the best commissioners to work with.”