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Artsy Keating takes over BBC2

Drama maven promoted to key post

LONDON — The British Broadcasting Corp. has signaled its intention to move its second terrestrial net, BBC2, famous for launching “The Office,” upscale with the appointment of BBC veteran Roly Keating as controller.

Keating — the favorite to succeed Jane Root, who is heading to Washington where she will run the Discovery Channel — takes over in June. He’ll likely attempt to revive the web’s reputation for cutting-edge drama.

At his inaugural press conference, Oxford-educated Keating, who successfully launched highbrow digital station BBC4 two years ago, said he wanted to commission “substantial, memorable pieces that feel like they are making a difference to Britain, and actually enter the memory.”

However, anyone hopeful that Keating’s elevation will lead to fewer lifestyle shows on the channel — for many critics a bone of contention — looks likely to be disappointed.

“BBC2 is absolutely the place for great popular leisure and lifestyle programming, and it has always been in the DNA of the channel,” he said. “The schedule is a very healthy mix at the moment.”

Root’s detractors have claimed that she made the channel, which recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, too mainstream by backing shows like quizzer “The Weakest Link” and a glut of home and self-improvement skeins.

The cerebral Keating has a background in arts and culture programs and has spent his entire career at the BBC.

Winning the prized BBC2 job, a key appointment at the pubcaster regularly held by execs on their way up, is seen as a reward for his inspired and shrewd stewardship of BBC4.

Both Michael Jackson, who just ended his stint at Universal-owned USA Networks in Los Angeles, and Mark Thompson went on to run Blighty’s Channel 4, following successful stints overseeing BBC2.

Despite a low budget, BBC4 has made an impact with critics and discerning viewers, thanks to its arts coverage and traditional documentaries.

Under Root, BBC2 was best known for quirky comedies like “The Office” and series that have encouraged viewer involvement such as “Great Britons,” in which audiences voted Winston Churchill the greatest Brit of all time, and “Restoration,” an initiative offering viewers the opportunity to save an historic building.

BBC 2 has also been the place for U.S. fare like “The X-Files,” “24” and “The Simpsons.”

One of Keating’s first tasks will be to fill the slots vacated by “The Simpsons” when it switches to Channel 4 this fall.

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