Inside Story: The TV hitmakers

The chiefs of Britain's most successful TV production companies pick the rivals they most admire
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The Independent Online

Peter Bennett-Jones, chairman of Tiger Aspect

Peter Bennett-Jones, chairman of Tiger Aspect

"Company Pictures have been consistently good. The Rotters' Club (pictured below) was absolutely flawless. They also made a very good film on Peter Sellers and Shameless. They've had a very good run and the two guys who run it, George Faber and Charlie Pattinson, are brilliant. They do very well on the quality of work. They've been bought by All3Media, but they still operate as Company Pictures. They've just got excellent judgement in the material they choose and they use brilliant writers and fantastic teams to make memorable drama, which is a very difficult thing to do."

James Burstall, chairman and chief executive of Leopard Films

"Company Pictures are really exciting because they do very edgy drama, both returning series and singles. I think they're very innovative and funny, and they choose contemporary subject matter. They can do very difficult stories but also make them funny so it's just very accessible. I love Shameless and they're also doing a sort of an Asian Shameless at the moment which is very funny. I just like the way they take difficult subjects and approach them in a very entertaining way. They find the warm heart in difficult subject areas. I think it comes down to taste and they have very strong relationships with the channels because the channels keep commissioning them. Clearly they deliver on time and on budget."

Adam Wood, head of entertainment, Lion Television

"Company Pictures stands out. They're mighty impressive and Shameless is fantastic, but they get a lot of different stuff commissioned in different areas. The Peter Sellers thing was great and they did Not Only But Always, the Dudley Moore/Peter Cook drama. They just produce consistently good stuff. They know what their strengths are and they play to those. TalkbackTHAMES is impressive. What Daisy Goodwin's done there has been pretty exceptional. She's had a string of hits which were all quite good. It's very rare that you get someone who can develop a genre in that way. Grand Designs is fantastic. She got How Clean Is Your House? commissioned and The Life Laundry, which are quite girlie, but she taps into truisms. Peter Fincham just employs talented people and lets them get on with it. Optomen is a smaller company but Patricia Llewellyn launched Jamie Oliver and now she's got Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. Everything she makes has got her stamp on it and it works."

Lorraine Heggessey, chief executive of TalkbackTHAMES

"Kudos has transformed the image of the company over the past few years by coming up with Spooks, which I think they executed to a very high standard. They cracked that thing very quickly of being able to produce very high-quality drama in volume, but also with a very distinctive stamp. Impossible Pictures and John Downer Productions are both quite bespoke, quite ambitious and technologically very innovative. Impossible was quite an ambitious thing for Tim Haines to do: to set up an independent in that CGI specialist factual area (Walking with Dinosaurs) which was very new at the time. Within natural history, John Downer has pushed technology in the same way that Tim has to create his own niche in the market. He's done things like Lions - Spy in the Den and Bears - Spy in the Woods, where he's come up with innovative ways of using tiny cameras to give us access to animals' worlds and behaviour in a way we were never able to before. And then he comes up with projects which are such fun like Animal Olympics."

Alex Connock, chief executive of Ten Alps

"I would say Kudos because in Spooks and Hustle (pictured below) they have made just the kind of edgy, stylish drama that I admire. What I particularly like is the way they have created a discernible house style, almost a branding that transcends their programmes. Yet this does not impinge on the integrity or dramatic qualities."

Tim Hincks, chief creative officer of Endemol UK

"Two companies which are medium sized but with big ambition and make great shows are Ricochet and Andrew O'Connor's Objective. Ricochet made No Going Back and they've got into factual and features in an interesting way. Most impressively they've now got a second run of Supernanny (pictured right) on ABC in the States. Nick Powell runs it and he's proof that you can be successful and a nice guy. I think it's a very impressive set up, making popular and quality TV.

Objective is as refreshing in a similar way, and a really interesting company. With Derren Brown they completely manage to own an area. They've managed to give it its own voice and made it incredibly cool, which is quite difficult with magic. They're also branching out into entertainment and comedy entertainment with Peep Show, one of the funniest and most underrated shows in the world. They've got real ambition, ideas and good relationships, particularly with Derren.

Both companies, crucially, are very much part of a school of producers who believe in collaboration with broadcasters. Both have got where they are partly through skills and talent but also through working closely with people."

Liz Murdoch, chief executive of Shine

Ricochet with Supernanny. Nick Powell has come up with a stand-out programme, produced very well, and he's attracting more and more talent. Ricochet has a good reputation as a place to work. You have to look at Objective for its factual entertainment through to Derren Brown. Andrew O'Connor's building a company more and more into the entertainment area and they have a very good reputation which they deserve because the product they make punches above its weight. In terms of drama I look at Kudos. With Spooks and Hustle they do what we do which is really fresh, contemporary drama but it has longevity. They're real, stand-out shows. What ties these three together is that they've come up with incredibly well-produced, franchised television programmes that resonate in the audience's mind and become part of popular culture. The only way they can do that is by attracting the best talent and giving it their all in terms of production."

Henrietta Conrad, managing director of Princess Productions

"Optomen. I think that Pat Llewellyn is brilliant. She saw and realised the potential of Jamie Oliver and made Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares (pictured right) unmissable. She also produced The Fucking Fulfords, which I loved. She has the ability to spot great talent and make great television with it and to spot left-of-centre talent and make it mainstream. My other favourite is Baby Cow. They're brand leaders in what they do, produce the best quality comedy around such as Nighty Night and The Keith Barret Show. The quality control is excellent, as is the partnership of Steve Coogan and Henry Normal. When partnerships like that work they're fantastic."

Ivan Rendell, managing director of Zenith Entertainment

"Hat Trick has been making good programmes for a very long time. Have I Got News for You (pictured right) is one of its stalwarts. For independents to have something like that is important. I think part of it is that it's one of those companies, along with ourselves and others too, that takes independent production as a very serious business. They've put in place the structures and the management systems to ensure they continue to produce good quality. If we're going to make a serious contribution to the broadcasting mix and do that on an increasing basis we need to have that kind of consistency over many years. That's what the broadcasting industry needs."

Andrew O'Connor, managing director of Objective Productions

Hat Trick for their longevity. They started right at the beginning of independents and were Channel 4's key comedy supplier and they now turn in the BBC's most successful comedy show, Have I Got News for You. They've managed to maintain the company over many years. Whose Line Is It Anyway? was fantastic and Father Ted was another top Hat Trick production. My second choice would be Talkback four or five years ago at the height of their comedy boom with The 11 0'Clock Show and Ali G. In the Nineties and the early 2000s they were also one of Channel 4's key suppliers of comedy. It became a different company once they sold it. I still admire it, but they were personal heroes of mine at that point before they sold.

Lisa Clark, director of Pett Productions (with Vic Reeves & Bob Mortimer)

"I think it's tougher for small companies and I'd go with Monkey for innovation. It's run by Will Macdonald and Dave Granger. I've just been reading some stuff they're doing on obsessive compulsive disorders which made me think "That's a smart idea", and they did Swag (pictured right) for Five, which again was quite a brave idea. I think they do quite risky shows, which I like. I admire Baby Cow who we've partnered on a few things. They take risks in comedy as well and they're probably braver than us in some terms. Obviously they've got Nighty Night and The Mighty Boosh and they do a wide range of innovative comedy. Comedy is an incredibly difficult market. If you're chasing figures and glory in the papers it's not something you should do because it's the easiest genre for people to attack. Comedy splits and divides people and there are very few that break through."

Jeff Foulser, chief executive of Television Corporation

"Wall to Wall. They're run by Alex Graham and they do a lot of factual entertainment. They did Who Do You Think You Are? (pictured left) which was really quite an original thought and very well done. They've also branched out into drama really well with New Tricks. It's not easy for a production company recognised for certain genres to move into others, and they've managed that transition. I like RDF. Wife Swap is a great brand and they've managed to leverage that internationally, in particular in the States. We know how difficult it is to make things work in the States and they've achieved it which is great. Jane Hewland (Hewland International) has created a niche for herself, mainly with Sky, making dramas that are low cost but high volume, things such as Dream Team and Mile High. Shed are obviously very well run and they've got two really good properties with Footballers' Wives and Bad Girls. I really like Kudos as well. They make really original contemporary drama, such as Spooks and Hustle, which bind the family together. I've got teenage children and we all sit in the same room and watch them - there aren't enough programmes like that on television."

Graham Norton, director of So Television

"Red. They've single handedly moved edgy into the mainstream. Their comedy dramas (Linda Green, Queer as Folk, pictured below, Clocking Off) are some of the programmes that make British television unique and the best in the world".

Danielle Lux, managing director of Celador Productions

"Red. I love watching as a viewer the things that they produce. As a company to operate in the highest risk, high-end area of drama, to be based in Manchester and to pull off the kinds of projects that they've pulled off is extraordinary. Drama requires so much financial investment. The kinds of shows that they've done - Clocking Off and Bob and Rose - have been on mainstream channels in very peak areas of the schedule; it's not small shows at 11 o'clock. They've carved a really good identity for themselves, which in fact probably comes from them being in Manchester. I certainly think they represent something distinct and successful and much of that will come from them knowing where their heart is. Nicola Shindler runs it in a way which is all about talent, craftsmanship, truth in terms of stories and great writing. She obviously has huge respect for and great relationships with great writers so people such as Russell T Davies and Paul Abbott work with her. They work in such breadth in terms of the channels they cover, which is no mean feat while maintaining the quality. I think what she's done is extraordinary. And I think she's annoyingly young as well!"

Henry Normal, managing director of Baby Cow Productions

"Red Productions would be my favourite. For independents the proof of what we do is what we get on the screen. They make quality and very contemporary programmes. Even Casanova was very contemporary and they're pushing the envelope but within their field of expertise, which is what makes them so successful. Clocking Off was refreshing because you rarely get anything set in a modern workplace, yet it was so gripping and relevant. Queer as Folk showed a new vision of Manchester as a vibrant cosmopolitan city while shows like Coronation Street make Manchester seem like a quaint rather nostalgic place. It was essentially about the gay community but it was so relevant to everybody."