BBC Three's ex-controller Danny Cohen (or, as I like to call him: The Nincompoop Who Cancelled Pulling) recently got a new posting. Last October Auntie’s favourite nephew was handed the top job at BBC1. A much-deserved bump up the ladder, some said. Presumably the same “some” who had admired his commitment to programming that provided a safe space for the criminally thick to loll their tongues. Others, meanwhile, thought it a foolish move, like handing a kid who makes Airfix kits the keys to a Red Arrow.
Unperturbed by his doubters’ unflattering similes and sneers, Cohen is already pumping potent, schedule-shattering pheromones onto his new patch. Last week saw DC axe Larkrise to Candleford and sexy detective drama, Zen. Before that he booted under-performing Monday night sci-fi saga, Outcasts, into a less glamorous slot (Sundays, 10.25pm).
But is Danny’s early failure to champion the channel’s core dramatic output pioneering and brave, or flat-out dumb? It depends what’s he got lined up as replacements. Will he seek out fresh, original content or rifle through BBC Three’s top drawer? If the Sod Off, I’m (Insert unappealing physical attribute here) series--or anything that invites the audience to decide whether a middle-aged mum is more attractive than her weepy daughter--goes terrestrial then I’m hosting a sit in on (previous BBC1 controller) Jay Hunt’s front lawn until she agrees to stage a coup.
Quite possibly, though, I’m huffing prematurely. Pinching a sister channel's stuff isn't necessarily a bad thing. For instance, BBC Three's Being Human would make a sumptuous addition to the Mother Channel’s portfolio. The worry is that Cohen will use his appointment to drive BBC1 down market, just because he can. Had anyone else pulled the plug on Larkrise I’d have ordered some celebratory bunting, a mallet and a Julia Sawalha-shaped pinata. But with Cohen's hand on the chain, I’m unnerved. On getting the job he bleated about taking risks and how the channel doesn’t need to win the ratings war “365 days a year.” But hazy, soaring press conference talk is cheap and the “risks” he promised could mean anything, or nothing.
At BBC Three, Cohen was lambasted for spending £100 million a year on youth-oriented shows. Now that he’s in charge of the grownup channel he's going out of his way to speak well its vintage stars. Last month he dispelled the rumour that Brucie was about to be dropped from Strictly. Cohen's assured us that under his reign older talent will be cheered not chopped. Perhaps he’s sincere. But more likely, in the coming months, a disconcerting BBC1 press release will slither onto our screen: Jennie Bond Goes to Porn School! the subject line will scream. Or: Titchmarsh gets Naked on Guerrilla Gardening Grownup Gap Year!