ITV buyer Kandola brings Midas touch

Featured Player: Jay Kandola

LONDON — In Blighty’s TV industry, Jay Kandola is notable for three things — buying “Desperate Housewives” for Channel 4, buying “Lost” for Channel 4 and for her sunny grin no matter how tough the negotiations. Ask her if she’s ever bought a dud during a career that has seen her buy shows for all of the U.K.’s biggest networks and she flashes a disarming smile before replying: “Absolutely not. I’ll be honest, some have performed less well than others, but there’s nothing that I would say was a complete turkey.”

In Blighty Kandola is almost as notable for the shows she passed on as the ones — “Housewives” and “Lost” — that led to her hiring by ITV as director of acquisitions last fall. Some industry sages regard her hire as a final attempt by the broadcaster to compete successfully in the acquisitions market against Channel 4 and Five.

“I have told Simon (Shaps, ITV head and her new boss) that I need to be evaluated on how much I don’t spend as on how much I spend, because the things you walk away from are as important,” she said recently.

It was “scary” to walk away from “Friends” spinoff “Joey” while working at C4, where she reported to veteran buyer June Dromgoole; however, as last week’s decision by NBC to ditch the Matt LeBlanc vehicle proved, Kandola made the right call.

Whether her judgment will be so on as she and her ITV colleagues attempt to outgun rivals C4, Five and the BBC at the L.A. Screenings this week remains to be seen.

In theory, her mission could not be more straightforward: Find “brand-defining shows” for ITV’s new portfolio of channels ITV1, 2, 3 and 4.

But ITV also needs a high-performance, long-running U.S. show for under-performing flagship web ITV1.

It needs the kind of fare — comedy or drama — that have given Channel 4 and Five ( where the “CSI” franchise remains a key sked element) such a boost.

“Shows like ‘Desperate Housewives,’ “Kandola says, “have the power to instantly refresh any channel because the best American shows bring the zeitgeist with them.”

One of Kandola’s early coups was purchasing a sassy female-skewed drama featuring a quartet of glamorous, man-hungry Manhattan women about town being hawked by a little-known distributor.

That show was “Sex and the City,” a brand-defining series for C4 and, crucially, Kandola’s first big splash as an acquisitions exec.

Not bad for the oldest of six children born to Indian immigrants who, on graduating as an accountant, had to fight hard to land a job interview because of the color of her skin.

“I’ve never been upset or defeated by racism,” she insists. Her can-do attitude eventually got her a job in the accounts division of a company importing fertilizer.

“I usually describe my career as a journey from manure to media,” she says.

Her big break came when the job agency that got Kandola her first job redirected her to C4 and a gig as a program sales accountant. A lengthy stint at the BBC followed, where she ended up running the finances for, among others, then-BBC1 controller Michael Jackson, now programming prexy at U.S. Internet giant IAC.

In L.A. this week, Kandola’s war chest is potentially bigger than those at the disposal of C4 and Five — and despite the certainty that U.K. buyers will pay mega-bucks for any skein that sparks a bidding war, Kandola reckons her experience and instincts will win out.

“More people are tracking these shows than ever before,” she says, “but I’ve got a headstart on them. I am not saying I always get it right, but I have my own methodology.”

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