The Interview: TV drama queen gets ready for new episode

Eileen Gallagher, Ceo of Shed Productions
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The Independent Online

Not many companies looking to float on the stock market have been fingered by the Archbishop of Canterbury for contributing to the lowering of morals in society.

Not many companies looking to float on the stock market have been fingered by the Archbishop of Canterbury for contributing to the lowering of morals in society.

The money-obsessed, bonking, bitchy world of Shed Productions' Footballers' Wives provoked Dr Rowan Williams to condemn the "selfish" behaviour depicted in the television series.

In his Easter sermon last year, Dr Williams lashed out at "a world in which charity, and fairness, generosity, a sense of perspective about yourself are all swept aside".

Eileen Gallagher, the chief executive of Shed, which plans to list in a few weeks, says she was confounded because the hit series has a strong social message, which Dr Williams seemed to have missed.

"He said this series is about shallow people, with shallow lives. Yes. That's what the series is about," Ms Gallagher says.

"There's so much interest in celebrity. We wanted to show what it's like to be there. But you only have to look at these lives and you say 'thank God I'm me and I'm no part of that shallow, horrible, world'."

The series was meant to be an "antidote" to the cult of celebrity. To show that this world is not one to aspire to. "The chattering classes say 'we get the joke but does the common audience get the joke?'. Of course they do," Ms Gallagher says.

As for Dr Williams, Ms Gallagher has begun to suspect that there may have been more to his intervention.

"What I eventually thought about the Archbishop is that, how clever is he? He's never had so much publicity for an Easter sermon. Was he being really clever here? He was using the shallow world of Footballers' Wives to get his own publicity."

Of course, that publicity was pretty good for Shed's programme too, although it was already a huge success by then. The company is now completing the fifth series of Footballers' Wives. It is also working on the seventh series of Bad Girls, its drama set in a women's prison, which has also become a massive hit. It turns out that there is a strong social agenda to this programme too.

Ms Gallagher, whose company has been consistently accused of making trashy television, says Bad Girls, the series that established Shed's reputation for making audience-winning programmes , is all about showing up the failings of the prison system.

"Prison is pretty scandalous. Eighty per cent of the women shouldn't be there. There are some monsters that should be. Most of the crimes are fraud, drugs, prostitution.

"What's the point in locking them up and not really giving any them education? The kids are taken into care - because most of the time, the fathers aren't around - and you've created another huge problem for society."

Before investors start to worry that they are about to be asked to put money into some sort of social service, Ms Gallagher is quick to point out that the first object of the company is to deliver large audiences and that is where the money is in this industry. "We like to entertain our audience, but we think about the way we entertain them," she says.

Ms Gallagher founded Shed in 1998 with three other equal partners, specifically to create programmes that would get viewers hooked on big stories and the big characters portrayed.

At the time, she was the head of LWT, the ITV franchise, as well as a deputy managing director at Granada, then one of the biggest ITV companies. A brilliant new team had just reinvigorated ITV's Coronation Street, after the soap had fallen into one of its periodic low patches. Brian Park had come in as Corrie's producer, Ann McManus was the story and script editor, and Maureen Chadwick was rated as the best scriptwriter.

Ms Gallagher approached this team and persuaded them to abandon their "secure, well-paid" jobs at the heart of the commercial television establishment and start their own independent production company.

Following an uncertain initial reception, Bad Girls - their first series - took off. They have since gone from strength to strength. After providing ITV with some of its most compelling drama series, Shed has been entrusted with the first big drama commission for the fast-growing digital channel ITV2 - a Footballers' Wives' spin-off called Extra Time. It will be aired in the spring.

In 1998, the trading environment for the independent production sector was a lot less attractive than today. "There was only one way of making a successful independent business, in my view. That was to establish a long-running drama and build it into something that would return in the schedule.

"And also do it for ITV, which was a really critical bit at the time," she says.

A programme that becomes a "banker" in the schedule is recommissioned, again and again. That provides for a certain income stream for the production house. The importance of working for ITV was that the broadcaster was required, by law, to leave the rights to a show with the producer - unlike the BBC or Channel 4, which took the rights for themselves. The ITV deal meant that independents were free to sell their programmes overseas, to make money from merchandising (especially DVDs) and flog the shows to non-terrestrial channels. More than one-third of Shed's profits now come from the exploitation of these secondary rights.

Better still, changes in the law last year - following lobbying from Ms Gallagher when she was the chair of the producers' trade body - mean the BBC and Channel 4 had to offer independents the same lucrative deal on keeping their intellectual property rights. And, the new director general of the BBC has committed the corporation to opening half of the corporation's output to the independent sector - from a quarter previously.

"The BBC should be using us as creative and price competition for themselves. Without that, it's very hard for them to tell if they're getting value for money. The new management at the BBC understand that much better - that the object of the licence fee should not be the creation of jobs for BBC staff. The object should be to get great programmes for licence fee payers."

This dramatic improvement in business conditions for independents means that, assuming the Shed float goes well, it will be followed by a series of other "super-independents" coming to market.

Marketing of the Shed issue is about to begin, with the company planning to list in mid-March. Last year, Shed had revenues of nearly £15m and operating profits of £3.2m. The float will value the company at about £40m, meaning that the 25 per cent each held by Ms Gallagher and her partners is worth £10m apiece. The listing should raise £13m cash for the founders (or £3.25m for each of them) and still leave them with 68 per cent of the company.

Shed hopes to use the currency of traded shares to buy talent and other companies, despite the very public failure last year of merger talks with its rival, Hat Trick, the company behind Have I Got New for You.

Ms Gallagher says: "After seven years, I thought what is the next step? We didn't just want to settle. So we're listing. If you settle, you die."

Come On, Eileen

Position: Chief executive, Shed Productions

Age: 45

Education: Queen Margaret Academy, Ayr. Glasgow University MA in politics.

Career: Started out in Scottish newspaper journalism. Big break in 1984 when she moved to Scottish Television, where she rose from press officer to main board director. Joined Granada in 1993 as deputy director of broadcasting and MD of LWT region.

Started Shed in 1998 but, while projects were in development, went off in January 1999 to work as managing director of programming at Ginger TV, the company founded by Chris Evans. Returned to Shed in mid-2000.

Pay: £150k

Hobbies: er, watching TV a lot; pilates.

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