Jackson to steer U.K. net toward Brit fare

LONDON — Michael Jackson, the new CEO of Blighty’s feisty minority web Channel 4, Tuesday signaled his intention to buy fewer American shows and to pump more money into British production, including feature films.

In his first encounter with the press since his appointment was announced last week, Jackson, the 39-year-old wunderkind of British TV poached from the British Broadcasting Corp. to succeed Michael Grade, said that homegrown fare formed the basis of Channel 4.

“At the end of the day the channel will be remembered for what it puts back into British production,” he said.

Asked if he would be prepared to sacrifice such high-profile C4 U.S. imports as “Friends” and “ER” if they became too expensive, Jackson replied in the affirmative.

“There is a price over which it would be foolish to pay for a program that you don’t control and isn’t feeding (money) back into British production,” Jackson said.

As controller of BBC2 and more recently topper of BBC1, Jackson has made no secret of his fondness for American shows, but Tuesday he emphasized C4’s responsibilities to domestic production.

He singled out Film on Four as “the gold standard of Channel 4,” saying he planned to invest more coin in the venture, the single most important source of movie finance in the U.K.

“It is the thing that has done most for Channel 4 in terms of new talent and original writing and has been a huge success. Film on Four is something everybody else has copied.

” ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ is the most successful film ever made in Britain. ‘Trainspotting’ is one of the best British films in the last 20 years,” Jackson added.

The new CEO, who is believed to have doubled his salary by joining C4, where he will earn in the region of $640,000, claimed running the web was the best job in British broadcasting.

Taking the job was not in any way a criticism of the BBC,” Jackson said, adding that it was difficult to leave the Beeb and that he supported all the changes now taking place there.

There has been speculation that C4’s director of programs, John Willis, would resign if another candidate for the top job was appointed. However, it now seems that Willis, who recently renewed his contract, may stay on. Jackson said he looked forward to having a good working relationship with Willis.

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