In a major executive shift, BBC Director of Television, Danny Cohen, will exit the corporation, he and the BBC confirmed this morning. Cohen is understood not to have chosen his next move, but has said he’s been approached “about a number of exciting opportunities and I want to consider these in an open and transparent way.” Speculation is that he’s mulling offers from both UK and U.S. companies. A move to the States wouldn’t be unprecedented: Cohen’s former colleague Ben Stephenson, who was Controller of Drama, left the BBC this year to run the TV division at JJ Abrams’ Bad Robot. Former Director General Mark Thompson exited to become president of The New York Times Company in 2012.
Cohen’s is a substantial position at the BBC. His remit has most recently included being responsible for all of the BBC’s television networks and BBC Productions, as well as the production and commissioning of all of the BBC’s drama, entertainment, comedy and factual programs. Further, he’s had creative leadership of BBC iPlayer the BBC’s cinema production through BBC Films.
He will leave at the end of November with Mark Linsey, Controller of Entertainment Commissioning, taking on his responsibilities until a more permanent appointment is made.
Cohen began his run at the broadcaster in 2007 at BBC Three. He later became Controller of BBC One and was named head of BBC Television in 2013, rounding out the senior management team of then newly installed director general Tony Hall. A Guardian source said Cohen wanted to exit the corporation to allow time for a replacement to be appointed before Hall outlines cuts he is due to announce before year’s end.
Cohen is largely credited with a period of great revival at the BBC, but has also had to ride out some pretty big storms. Those include this year’s dust-up involving Jeremy Clarkson and a Top Gear producer which resulted in the exit of the flagship show’s trio of hosts and the subsequent reboot of the program which has yet to air. More recently he was the subject of calls for an inquiry into his role in the so-called “luvvies’ letter” which was signed by a number of celebrities including Judi Dench, JK Rowling and Daniel Craig. The letter was published in July urging the government to protect the integrity and independence of the BBC whose charter is up for renewal next year. Cohen was accused by Tory MP Jesse Norman of a “direct attempt by proxy” to lobby the celebs; Hall defended him in front of a Select Committee last month.
Hall said today, “Danny has led the incredible resurgence of drama on the BBC, having commissioned or overseen shows like Happy Valley, Poldark, Last Tango In Halifax, Wolf Hall, Top Of The Lake, Peaky Blinders, Doctor Who and the forthcoming Dickensian and War And Peace. He has also made an outstanding contribution to comedy and entertainment, with shows such as Cradle To Grave, Peter Kay’s Car Share, Strictly Come Dancing, EastEnders and The Graham Norton Show. He also led BBC One’s 2012 London Olympics coverage. That is one hell of a CV.”
Other shows with which he’s been involved during his tenure include Call The Midwife, The Voice and JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Before joining the BBC, Cohen was Head of E4, and before that Head of Channel 4 Documentaries. His commissions included Skins, The Inbetweeners, and Supernanny.
Cohen offered, “After eight wonderful years at the BBC, it is time for my next big challenge. BBC Television is on brilliant creative form. I feel very privileged to have led Television for the world’s finest public service broadcaster and to have worked with so many smart and talented people.
“I’m very proud of the wide-ranging success of BBC Television under my leadership. In this period of intense competition we’ve reached 92% of UK audiences every week, delivered outstanding channel services and built the number one digital service across the television industry in the BBC iPlayer. Throughout this time, we’ve delivered a fantastically rich slate of ground-breaking shows, thought-provoking ideas, national and international awards and global hits. We have made our audiences laugh, cry and think, and have made extraordinary imprints on our national culture and the BBC’s international reputation. There has never been a more exciting time for television and digital media. I’m looking forward to taking up a new leadership role in this age of intense creative and technological innovation.”