The man behind 'Skins' hops channels as new BBC1 controller

Lewis Smith
Saturday 16 October 2010 00:00 BST

The man who brought us Supernanny and Skins but has a passion for Charles Dickens and thinks EastEnders is the best programme on television has been appointed controller of BBC1.

Danny Cohen, 36, leaves as head of BBC3 to take over the nation's most watched channel where he will oversee a £1.1bn budget, more than 10 times the £100m he had to spend at the digital channel.

His love of EastEnders, the soap that boasts virtually every human misery possible outside the Third World, and the heartrending and hard-hitting documentaries he commissioned at BBC3 such as Blood Sweat and Takeaways, suggest BBC1 could be about to get more gritty.

Even his delight in Dickens, whose novels were the 19th-century equivalent of documentaries lifting the lid on social scandals, is suggestive of a taste for the suffering end of human drama.

His move is expected to be part of a new attempt by BBC1 to capture younger audiences with programmes designed to appeal to their sense of "cool". Those he has brought to the small screen already include the teen drama Skins and the teen comedy The Inbetweeners, though he once insisted: "You don't have to make things cool to make them interesting to young people."

At BBC3 Mr Cohen was responsible for increasing the channel's share of 16-34-years-olds by 58 per cent with programmes such as Young Voters' Question Time and Lindsay Lohan's Indian Journey in which the actress investigated the child sex trade. The Blood Sweat and Takeaways documentary, in which six young people travelled to Indonesia to join the tuna trade won the coveted Rose d'Or award for best reality and factual entertainment.

It is his success at attracting the youth audience that made him the hot favourite for the promotion but BBC bosses were equally impressed by his ability to understand his audience, whether young or old, and it is this factor that suggests he will be less of a culture shock than critics may fear.

He is, nevertheless, also responsible for programmes such as Hotter Than My Daughter and Snog, Marry Avoid which have contributed to claims he is likely to be a force for dumbing down.

Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, described Mr Cohen as "one of the most talented TV executives of his generation" when she announced the appointment yesterday. She praised his skills as "an innovator and a great creative thinker" and said: "He has a deep understanding of public service broadcasting and a finely developed sense of what audiences of all ages are looking for."

He takes over as controller of BBC1 from Jay Hunt who left to become chief creative officer at Channel 4, where Mr Cohen has previously worked as head of factual entertainment and head of E4. In a statement issued through the BBC, Mr Cohen said the appointment was an honour and a privilege.

As controller of BBC1 he has a salary of £260,000 which, in this era of austerity, is £5,000 less than his predecessor but still considerably more than the Prime Minister's £142,500. He might not, however, get away with any more claims for £26.97 boxed sets of Skins, which he did at BBC3. Whether he continues to claim for the use of his own mobile phone or if the BBC will finally see fit to buy him one remains to be seen.

Among the interests he listed in his Who's Who entry last year were "pickle" and "giraffes". He later explained that he'd put them in because they were family jokes and said: "I really didn't think anyone would notice."

Danny Cohen: The Highs....


First came the hype, then came a difficult birth, with a shaky first series. The show took off, however, launching careers and delivering culturally significant TV. Charting the lives of a group of the out of control teenagers from Bath, the fourth series opened with ratings of 1.1m.

Being Human

Anticipating the world craze for all things vampire, this BBC3 paranormal drama was a charming success. The tale of three unlikely flatmates – a werewolf, a vampire and a ghost – was helped on its way with witty scripts and exciting plots.

...and lows

Lily Allen & friends

"Forced", "desperate" and "painful to watch" were among the nicer things the critics said about this BBC3 vehicle commissioned in an attempt to speak to "da youff". It was claimed that a third of the studio audience walked out because they were so bored.

Snog, marry, avoid

Hiding under layers and layers of slap, these girls are in desperate need of a makeover. How best to tell a self-professed fake-tan addict that orange isn't hot? Get some random bloke in the street to tell her she's too scary to snog. Trash TV, but still strangely compelling.

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