Granada chiefs quit as programme budget pared back

Two Granada chiefs have jumped ship from soon the to-be-merged ITV giant to join an ambitious independent production company led by the Pop Idol judge Simon Cowell.

Nigel Hall, Granada's controller of entertainment and the head of development, Siobhan Greene, are joining his company SimCow, which has teamed up with the German media group Bertelsmann in a deal to supply output to Rupert Murdoch's Fox Television.

The departure of the pair, who developed shows such as Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway came as Granada and Carlton Communications yesterday revealed ITV will spend an extra 7 per cent on programmes in the current financial year to next September.

The £57m increase in the programme budget from £792m to £849m is, however, less than the £100m increase last year. The extra cash will go mainly into entertainment, comedy and factual programmes to fill the slots created by moving ITV's late evening news back half an hour to 10.30pm.

ITV is keen to promote an image of dominating original drama on TV. Part of the budget will go into a new series of the Prime Suspect crime drama to be screened this autumn and a second series of the First World War detective stories Foyle's War.

The commitment to regional soapssuch as Emmerdale, will be maintained, ITV promises. New entertainment and comedy commissions include Saturday Night Takeaway. The makers of Wife Swap are branching out into Holiday Showdown.

Granada's Charles Allen, who is set to become chief executive of ITV plc, the company that will be created by the £3.7bn merger between Granada and Carlton, claimed: "We [are committed] to shaping a stronger ITV, delivering high quality television to viewers and advertisers."

He said ITV was investing more in programmes than any other commercial broadcaster in Europe. The plans suffered a setback, however, as the fallout began from the proposed merger, which was approved in principle by the Trade Secretary Patricia Hewitt last week.

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