My Life in Media: Paul Jackson

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The Independent Online

Paul Jackson, 59, is the director of entertainment and comedy at ITV. He has worked on The Two Ronnies, Monty Python, The Young Ones, Bottom and Red Dwarf during a 35-year career in television. He chaired Comic Relief for 12 years, is the chairman of volunteer organisation TimeBank, a visiting professor at Exeter University, and a supporter of TVYP and Fast Track, which help young people to develop a career in television. He lives in south London with his wife and has two daughters.

What inspired you to embark on a career in the media?

My parents were both actors and my father became a producer at the BBC. I used to go to the studio with him, and round the clubs watching comedy. I wanted to be a comic, but realised you were slightly more stable behind the camera, and I didn't think I was talented enough.

When you were 15 years old, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?

My mother was a lifelong Daily Mail reader, not that I read it. I used to look at Page 3 rather than the news, being a 15-year-old boy.

What were your favourite TV and radio shows?

When I was 16 two things happened simultaneously: the pop music boom and the satire boom. I used to go and watch TW3 (That Was the Week That Was) any Saturday I could – I had, through my father, more access than I might otherwise have done. He did This is Your Life and What's Your Line? I also listened to radio comedy. I didn't understand quite how naughty Round the Horne was but it made me laugh. I listened to Radio Luxembourg and then Radio Caroline, as that's where all the music would break through – the same bands I would be out watching at night.

Describe your job.

I select and quality-control all the entertainment and comedy that goes on ITV1, 2, 3 and 4.

What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?

I put on GMTV and I listen to Today in the car. It's that old thing everybody says – that you should read The Daily Telegraph and The Sun.

Do you consult any media sources during theworking day?

I subscribe to the Hollywood Reporter and Variety and look at C21, World Screen News and NATPE's (America's National Association of Television Program Executives) daily newsletter.

What is the best thing about your job?

Working with extraordinary people. That goes back to going to the studios with my dad when I was six or seven, and I still love it, whether it's Simon Cowell or Guy Jenkin, the writer of Drop the Dead Donkey, who's just written a new show for us.

And the worst?

When it goes wrong. When something like Tycoon happens you beat yourself up. The joy of something like You've Got Talent is not as joyful as the annoyance or despair or irritation when it doesn't work.

How do you feel you influence the media?

At some points I was lucky enough to be the conduit through which a lot of alternative comedy came to a broader audience. In the Eighties I remember thinking the business was changing and there was a movement that wasn't yet tapped into. I wouldn't say I had an influence, but I put on shows like The Young Ones and Saturday Live that did.

What's the proudest achievement in yourworking life?

Setting up Carlton. For all the bad publicity and downsides, five of us wrote that bid, and we were bidding against companies that had been doing it for 10 to 20 years with huge staffs – and we won it. Five of us became 250 by the time we went on air, and that was a very proud moment.

And what's your most embarrassing moment?

I don't get embarrassed, but that's not to say I don't screw up. My most disappointing moment was also Carlton, because we didn't achieve what we would have hoped on the programming side. We did do some good shows: The Good Sex Guide and Hollywood Women were, in their own way, ground-breaking. But that's not enough for the length of time we were on air.

At home, what do you tune in to?

I try not to watch television immediately when I get home but to have a glass of wine and a meal with my wife and unwind. You've Got Talent was certainly fun to watch. I've enjoyed Newsnight, I love Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip and Heroes – US networks are being very adventurous at the moment.

What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?

I get The Sunday Times and News of the World. I read Heat or Grazia every now and then, and look at Hello!, as in my field it's handy to know about that celebrity world. When I'm in America I pick up The National Enquirer for the samereasons. I don't subscribe to Broadcast. Why would you? It runs a very narrow, specialised agenda. Theindustry deserves a better paper.

Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire.

To make some more hits.

If you didn't work in the media what would you do?

I couldn't make a living doing anything else, but I do teach about the business and I enjoy teaching.

Who in the media do you most admire and why?

Along with the Two Ronnies, who I did eight series with, the people who taught me how to do this job were Bill Cotton and Michael Grade. That might sound creepy as Michael Grade is now my boss, but I'd say it if he wasn't. Bill, particularly, was my mentor.

The CV

1971 Joins the BBC as a runner (then known as a callboy), leaving 11 years later as a senior producer

1982 Goes freelance and works on Cannon and Ball, Saturday Live, The Young Ones and Girls on Top

1986 Paul Jackson Productions is bought by Noel Gay Television, where Jackson works on Red Dwarf and Bottom

1993 Joins Carlton, becomes MD the night the channel goes live

1996 Returns to the BBC as controller of entertainment responsible for TV, radio and online output

2000 Goes to Australia as MD of Granada Media Australia; later oversees the US Hell's Kitchen in LA

2006 Joins ITV in London

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