Nigel Pickard: ITV's best is yet to come

From the Bafta annual lecture, given by ITV's director of programmes
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The Independent Online

In two years' time, ITV will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Like any 48-year-old in its prime, ITV is at the peak of its powers, but it faces all the doubts and challenges that come with maturity. Wrinkles are showing. With so many young, flashy, or just plain rich channels in the market, can it still make itself lovable - can it attract flighty youth without frightening off its loyal following of over-40s? Is it on the verge of the Fabulous Fifties, or is it reconciled to signing on with Saga?

ITV's mid-life crisis is more complex than that of course, but no less acute. A generation of stars and titles, synonymous with the channel over the past three decades are - how can I put this politely? - getting on a bit. Some are still in there giving fantastic value, entertaining millions. Some are getting tired. Some have gone. Some, like Cilla and Barrymore, made the decision for us. It's always difficult to part company with a star, or a series that has served your channel well over many years. You've been through a lot together. It's very tempting to stay together because it's so hard these days for a single mass-market channel to nurture potential bankers. Because, make no mistake, bankers and soaps are the twin pillars of the mass-market schedule that hold everything else together. You don't discard them lightly. You refresh, you reinvent, you recast, you spin off, and you do everything you can to keep them going.

If you don't watch ITV1 much it's easy to think that all we do is soaps and Club Reps From Hell. It's a common mistake. We all think we know the terrestrial channels and what they like to commission. Channel 4 does Afghanistan, Iraq and the Middle East, we do Holiday Airport. BBC1 does wildlife and contemporary "real life" documentaries and we do Celebrity Fit Club. Well, yes and no. Actually, we do all of these things. I'd say to every producer, don't reject us out of hand. Try us with your idea. And if we like it, you can be sure of getting the best rights deal in town, so what is there to lose?

ITV is on the cusp of a new upward cycle. ITV is set to move into its Fabulous Fifties with confidence. The best is still to come.