One of the BBC’s most senior creatives is leaving the Corporation to become the new CEO of leading U.K. indie, Talkback-Thames. Lorraine Heggessey, controller of BBC1, the pubcaster’s flagship web, will succeed Peter Fincham at the FremantleMe-dia-owned combo, where she will oversee a wide range of fare including drama, reality and comedy shows.
At Talkback, she will report to FremantleMedia topper Tony Cohen who said: “We are thrilled to have secured such an outstand-ing and respected television executive as Lorraine Heggessey to lead our growing U.K. production business and talented Talk-backThames team. “With her knowledge and instincts as a top broadcaster together with her extensive production experience, she will be a tremendous asset to the company and to FremantleMedia worldwide.”
Rumors of Heggessey, a feisty and well-respected programmer, ankling the BBC have been rife in London media circles for weeks. Under her guidance, BBC1 emerged as Blighty’s most popular web, overtaking ITV1 for the first time in its history as more coin was ploughed into drama and entertainment. Her hits have included spy skein “Spooks” and, more recently, the old-style entertainment vehicle, “Strictly Come Dancing.” Critics accused Heggessey of “dumbing down” the web after she scaled back current affairs and arts shows, but as the BBC negotiates the renewal of its Royal Charter, BBC1 has of late begun to move up scale. Another glitch has been the crisis affecting BBC1’s flagship soap, “EastEnders,” which has fared badly in the ratings in recent months. One of the main tasks of whoever succeeds her will be to revive this blue-collar sudster.
There is no obvious favorite to succeed her, but one possibility must be Channel 4’s director of television, Kevin Lygo. He is well remunerated at C4 and is likely to play hard to get, but a move to Television Centre would reunite him with BBC director-general Mark Thompson, the man who hired him at C4 prior to Thompson rejoining the Beeb. Insiders think Heggessey’s departure may trigger a reorganization that could lead to another high profile BBC exit – that of director of television, Jana Bennett, a former high flyer at Discovery in Washington. If this is the case, Lygo could well be offered Bennett’s job – in addition to running BBC 1.
In a statement Heggessey said: “After almost five years as controller of BBC1, I feel I am ready for a new challenge and could not pass up the opportunity to join one of the U.K.’s most respected production companies. “I have had a wonderful time at BBC1 working with some of the best talent both in front of and behind the camera, but with the terms of trade putting independent producers in greater control of their rights, this is an exciting time to move back into the UK’s independent sector.”