Pearson seeks big-name TV chief

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MEDIA giant Pearson has got its sights on a high-profile replacement for Greg Dyke, the head of the company's television business who will leave this autumn to become director-general of the BBC.

Former Channel Four chief executive Michael Grade is among the candidates approached by Pearson - owner of the Financial Times, an educational book publishing empire and a television unit that puts out Baywatch. He is in the process of leaving the health club and entertainment group First Leisure,which he has run since 1997.

According to industry sources, Mr Grade is "in the frame" to replace Mr Dyke at Pearson TV, though it is thought unlikely that he will be a straightforward replacement.

"The headhunters are happy to have Grade on their list," said one. "But their mandate is to look in the US and on the Continent for a replacement for Dyke. They want someone in his or her 30s or 40s who can leverage Pearson's TV business into new media. Grade's strength is in dealing with talent, and he could come in as a part-time chairman."

Both Pearson and First Leisure have declined to comment on the move. Mr Grade himself is said to be on holiday.

Mr Grade, 56, is the former director of programmes at LWT, managing director of BBC TV and head of Channel 4. He also briefly worked for Embassy Television in Los Angeles in the 1980s. He has a reputation as an expert at buying American TV productions and repacking them for Britain, a big part of Pearson TV's business.

Pearson, meanwhile, is reviewing its TV strategy in the wake of Mr Dyke's departure. It is said that group chief Marjorie Scardino wants to team Mr Grade with a more strategic thinker, possibly drawn from the US TV industry. Pearson TV has recently been investing heavily in areas where Mr Grade had no track record: online information series, animation production and computer games.

Friends of Mr Grade confirm that he "is not first and foremost a corporate strategist".

Mr Grade has been unhappy at First Leisure for some time, were he has been unpopular with executives who believed he was "parking" himself until an opportunity to re-enter television presented itself.