ITV pins hopes on 'Crowngate' controller

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The Independent Online

It was a black moment for Peter Fincham last October when he was forced to resignas controller of BBC1 over the "Crowngate" affair involving a misleading press trailer for a documentary about the Queen.

Yesterday, all that was forgotten when in a surprise announcement that – unusually for an industry built on gossip – had been kept well under wraps, Fincham was named the new director of television at ITV.

The appointment was part of a number of announcements made by the troubled broadcaster, which is due to present its results to the City on Wednesday. Michael Grade, who was originally hired as executive chairman for three years, had his tenure extended by an extra year, taking him to the end of 2010.

Fincham, who is due to take up his new post in the spring, possibly in April, replaces Simon Shaps, the man once called television's great survivor, who defied expectations by holding on to his job when Grade joined the company in January 2007.

Publicly, ITV is insisting that Shaps had always said that he would go after three years in the job, and indicated that he had even been responsible for approaching Fincham about taking over his job.

But there is little doubt among industry insiders that Shaps's departure is linked to the failure of his recent schedule overhaul, which he described as "the most significant in 25 years", designed to attract the young, upmarket viewers that ITV is desperate to impress. At its heart is a raft of new drama, which has so far failed to increase audiences.

It will be hoped that Fincham, who brought cohesion and sophistication to BBC1 before falling on his sword over a press trailer which wrongly appeared to show the Queen storming out of a photoshoot with Annie Leibovitz, can inject some similar magic at ITV. ITV has no shortage of woes: a plunging share price, the ruling that Sky must sell most of its 17.9 per cent stake in the company, a forthcoming report on the phone-in scandal from Ofcom, which has already demanded an investigation by the independent auditor Deloitte.

Fincham, who joined the BBC from the independent production company Talkback Thames, where he was chief executive, is well-respected in the industry, but there are doubts over whether one man can lift ITV out of its troubles.

Conor Dignam, the publishing director of Broadcast magazine, said: "He's got an incredible track record and he proved what he could do with BBC1... He's got a deft hand with talent. He's extremely able at many of the things you want from an ITV controller. None of that necessarily means he's got a magic touch that's going to turn around ITV."

Other changes announced at ITV yesterday included splitting John Cresswell's roles as chief operating officer and group finance director, and appointing Dawn Airey, the managing director of global content, and Rupert Howell, the managing director of brand and commercial, to the company's board.

Fincham's CV

Born: 26 July 1956.

Educated: Tonbridge School and Churchill College, University of Cambridge (BA Hons in Music).

1985: Joins TalkBack Productions, a company founded by comedians Griff Rhys Jones and Mel Smith, as a producer.

1986: Appointed managing director.

1989: Oversees TalkBack's move into television.

2001: TalkBack is sold to Pearson for £62m, with Fincham making an alleged £12m out of the deal.

2003: Appointed chief executive of TalkBack Thames.

2005: Succeeds Lorraine Heggessey as BBC1 controller.

2007: Resigns as controller.

2008: Appointed director of television at ITV by Michael Grade, succeeding Simon Shaps.