Jackson plans a shake-up for C4 writers

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A thorough shake-up of the drama output of Channel 4 is being planned by Michael Jackson, the new head of the station.

Mr Jackson is at present trying to tempt Tony Garnett, the producer behind BBC hits such as This Life and Between the Lines, to create long-running hits for his new channel.

This is a departure from Channel 4's past habit of commissioning short- run dramas from big-name writers such as Alan Bleasdale, who created GBH and Jake's Progress for the channel. Although Mr Bleasdale is expected to continue his association with Channel 4, Mr Jackson also wants teams of writers to work on projects so they can produce longer runs, as is done in the United States and by Mr Garnett.

Mr Jackson is believed to want to apply the American-style "creative- factory" technique of multiple writers to comedies. "The thing about ER and Friends is that they may be produced on a factory system," a Channel 4 insider says, "but they are very high-quality. This Life is produced like that but is still a very British programme."

Mr Jackson, who commissioned This Life when he was head of BBC2, is known to believe that that the jerkily filmed drama about the sex lives of 20-something lawyers is the most innovative programme on television.

Mr Jackson's plans led to the departure of Channel 4's long-standing drama head, Peter Ansorge, this week. He was the fifth senior commissioning editor to leave the channel since Mr Jackson's appointment was announced in May.

However, soap fans can relax: Mr Jackson has commissioned a further three years of Brookside, one of the channel's most popular programmes.

Mr Jackson has publicly registered his antipathy to Channel 4 entertainment programmes such as The Girlie Show, which is not expected to be recommissioned.

Eurotrash, notwithstanding endorsement from Mr Jackson, is also expected to end its run.

David Stevenson, the editor for entertainment and youth programmes who commissioned The Girlie Show, left the channel just before Mr Jackson arrived.

Mr Jackson is also known to want to tighten up the channel's scheduling and is believed to be under pressure from the channel's advertising sales staff to reschedule some of its documentary strands, such as Despatches and Cutting Edge, out of peak viewing times.

However, the channel uses the fact that seven out of its top 20 ratings programmes last year were documentaries to prove that it is sticking to its minority programming remit.

The format of Channel 4's heavyweight evening-news programme will also be reviewed, but sources at the channel expect David Lloyd, in charge of programmes such as Despatches and the news, to stay in his job, despite speculation that Mr Jackson wants to clear out all of the channel's long- standing commissioning editors.

When Channel 4 started, its broadcasting commissioning editors were given only two-year contracts in order to keep them fresh, but now most of the channel's editors have been there since the late-Eighties.

"They will be carrying them out in bodybags," said one departing editor.

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