Grade to stay until end of 2010

LONDON — ITV, the U.K. terrestrial giant under fire for falling ratings and a dismal stock price performance, has restructured its senior team.

Out goes Simon Shaps, the director of TV who less than three months ago announced what he described as the biggest changes to the ITV1 schedule in a quarter of a century.

Shaps, an ITV veteran of 26 years, is replaced by Peter Fincham, the ex-BBC1 controller and former head of U.K. entertainment and comedy shingle Talkback Thames.

The other changes involve a year’s extension to the contract of executive chairman Michael Grade, whose job of reinventing ITV for the digital era is arguably proving tougher than he originally thought.

The former BBC chairman and Channel 4 CEO will now stay on board at ITV until the end of 2010.

Additionally there are main board positions for global content topper Dawn Airey and Rupert Howell, managing director of ITV brand and commercial.

Meanwhile the job of COO and finance chief John Cresswell, Grade’s number two, will be split into two with the recruitment of a new finance chief.

ITV insisted that Shaps, under pressure to improve ratings at flagship web ITV1, had always intended to stand down after three years in the job and that he played an active role in helping to hire Fincham.

But the timing of his departure, just weeks after revamping ITV1’s schedule in January with the return of iconic news show “News at Ten,” a new look at weekends and a slew of fresh peak-time drama, have set tongues wagging among London’s TV fraternity.

In a statement, Grade, who inherited Shaps on arriving at the troubled network in January 2007, said: “Simon told me some time ago that he wanted to do this job for a maximum of three years.

“He has made an inestimable contribution to ITV over 26 years, including director of programs for LWT and Granada, managing director of Granada Broadband and chief executive of Granada Productions, latterly playing an important part in creating a single ITV plc (public limited company).

“Simon bows out on a high, having delivered ITV’s best year-on-year broadcast performance for many years.”

However, it was an open secret within ITV that Shaps wanted to succeed Grade.

By promoting Airey and Howell to the main board, the succession now looks like a three horse race between these two and Cresswell, with Airey, a former head of Five, the favorite.

The appointment of Fincham, who resigned as BBC1 controller last fall following a row over faked footage in a docu about British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, represents a considerable coup for Grade.

He is widely regarded as one of Blighty’s most talented creatives and left BBC1 in robust shape thanks to fare like “Strictly Come Dancing,” “Doctor Who,” “Cranford” and “The One Show.”

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