Dynamic duo take on the States

Jackson, Davies lead ITV's merged U.S. arm

LONDON — After weeks of tortuous negotiations, rumor and counterrumor, the soon-to-be merged ITV last week cemented a deal that puts in place the team to run the combo’s U.S. hub.

Paul Jackson and Stephen Davis were respectively named CEO and prexy of new production entity Granada America on Jan. 14.

Now the question is: Can these two Los Angeles-based execs deliver the goods in the world’s toughest entertainment market?

“The combination is very strong,” claims Granada’s director of production, Simon Shaps. “Paul and Stephen are both highly regarded internationally.”

Shaps deserves credit for keeping Jackson (a Granada man) and Davis (who ran Carlton America) on side, but until now Granada and Carlton have adopted very different strategies across the Atlantic.

“Persuading Paul and Stephen to work together at Granada America is a great compromise,” reckons a Carlton insider. “It ensures continuity and sends out a message that Granada values what Carlton has achieved in the States.”

Granada focused on securing commissions from broadcasters, often with limited success — ABC did not renew reality skein “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here.”

Carlton adopted the less risky strategy of making made-for-TV movies via L.A.-based Carlton America in collaboration with U.S. partners and doing documentaries for PBS.

Yet the marriage between these troubled U.K giants is effectively a Granada takeover, with most of the top jobs landed by Granada execs.

This reflects Granada’s more powerful position as a U.K. broadcaster and producer, but in America, Carlton’s track record is as good as Granada’s and, in some cases, more impressive.

“It’s generally assumed that Carlton America has been more profitable than Granada’s U.S. ventures over the years,” says a veteran U.K. program packager. “Granada has spent a small fortune attempting to get a long-running show on an American network, but it still hasn’t happened for them.”

It has also employed different and arguably inconsistent ways of attempting to become a player in the U.S.

In the late 1990s Granada even signed up with domestic rival the BBC in a joint venture intended to take U.K. drama and entertainment to America.

That deal has been quietly mothballed without scoring any conspicuous triumphs.

Meanwhile, the new company, bringing together Carlton America, Granada Entertainment USA and Granada USA New York, hopes that by combining two very different strategies under one roof, the U.S. will finally make real money for ITV.

“Our ambition is to expand,” Shaps says. “We have two complementary businesses in the U.S., and we are bringing them together.”

By concentrating on reality shows (“I’m a Celebrity” is doing good business internationally, most recently in Germany), TV movies and drama, ITV, which finally steps out on Feb. 2, hopes to build on the combined revenues of £70 million ($120 million) generated by the three old companies.

Not that it has been all bad news for Granada in the U.S.

Jackson, one of Blighty’s most highly regarded entertainment producers, has made some inroads with the networks, and business is brisk on the cable front.

He recently oversaw production of a six-part reality series for NBC, “American Princess,” in which 10 American women came to England and were given royal makeovers.

The docu soap “Airline,” aired on A&E, is making waves. MTV, meanwhile, has ordered 30 more episodes of “Room Raiders.”

Carlton has made up to 15 TV pics a year via its American subsidiary, of late scoring with “Giuliani” a biopic starring James Wood as New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani on USA Network.

In the pipeline is a version of U.K drama hit “Soldier, Soldier” developed in collaboration with “West Wing” writer-producer John Sacret Young.

“With a lot of British companies trying to expand their activities across the Atlantic, it’s critical that Granada America is led by executives of Paul and Stephen’s caliber,” Shaps emphasizes.

“Paul is an incredibly able executive who can talk to the U.S. networks with complete trust and confidence. Thanks to Stephen, Carlton has become one of the major suppliers of TV movies for the U.S. market.

“Our aim is to become a credible producer of content across the waterfront for U.S. TV.”

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