The contractor and the producer come together

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The Independent Online
THE PROPOSED merger between Carlton and Central brings together two different styles of broadcaster, writes Maggie Brown.

Central, with its roots in Lew Grade's ATV, is a producer, with 38 years of programme-making behind it. It employs 840 people, after making cuts of 93 earlier this month.

Carlton, which wrested the franchise from Thames, has run the London weekday station for 11 months as a publisher-contractor. It employs 270 people, with a half share in the seven-day London News Network. Apart from the news studio that it shares with LWT, it owns no production facilities.

Carlton has still to win its programming spurs: it has been criticised by the playwright Dennis Potter, among others, for lightweight programmes.

Its biggest popular successes so far are The Hypnotic World of Paul McKenna and The Good Sex Guide, while its programme chief, Paul Jackson, is proud of the dramas Heart and Soul - about a nun - and Frank Stubbs Promotes, a comedy drama.

Central makes various nationally networked programmes, such as the situation comedy The Upper Hand, from a large studio in Nottingham. The company also sprawls over the heart of England, serving three regions with distinct news services.

Leslie Hill, its chairman and chief executive, said Central programme makers had a very successful year, with hits such as Peak Practice, Soldier Soldier and a range of children's programmes. The one thing missing in its schedules is a soap opera .

Mr Hill said the aim of the merger 'was to keep quite separate companies rather like record companies had separate labels'.

Carlton, which paid a high price at pounds 48m a year to run the weekday London franchise, could not afford to build up an extensive production base and is now benefiting from taking over established centres. 'We always knew there was surplus production capacity,' Nigel Walmsley, chief executive of Carlton, said.

The plan is to put television commissions won by the two companies, which may approach pounds 200m a year, through Nottingham where practicable, creating a sizeable Midlands centre. Central will also market programmes abroad for both franchises.

Ted Childs, controller of Central drama and films, said yesterday he had been assured production would continue unaffected.