EXCLUSIVE: Next to speculating about who’ll get the BBC America gig (more on that below), the 2nd most popular Beeb-related guessing game has been figuring out what’s happening atop the 80-year-old British pubcaster. Now I’ve learned that BBC Worldwide Productions has fired ICM after taking several meetings with other agencies — and hired CAA. The production company had been with top unscripted agent Greg Lipstone at the William Morris Agency, then followed him to ICM.
So why CAA? Sources tell me CAA agreed to rep not just the company but also Mark Thompson, Director-General of the BBC, and John Smith, Chief Executive of BBC Worldwide, on the downlow. The reason is that both top execs are convinced they’re about to lose their high-powered jobs. I’m told they want CAA to act as their personal head-hunters and find their next executive positions — hopefully with a media company in the U.S. Of course, that’s a whopping conflict of interest.
This isn’t paranoia on the part of the Beeb bigwigs, either. Deadline London editor Tim Adler has been continuously writing about how big changes are expected at the BBC if the upcoming British elections mean a change of government. Because the Beeb has become something of a political liability since PM Tony Blair’s era. The licence fee comes up for renewal in 2012. It’s expected that a Tory government will freeze it even if the Beeb shows it’s living up to its public service remit. (BBC Drama: Battle Heats Up Over Future Programming)
As a source explained to me, “The jig is up. The BBC top execs are trying to feather their own nests and have been very vocal in meetings about the fact they want to have more of a profile in Hollywood so they want CAA to figure out their next move. It’s disgusting — because they work for the government and they’re using their roles at the BBC to further their own ambitions.”
Lipstone sold BBC Worldwide Prods’ biggest unscripted series Dancing with the Stars while at WMA. The show eventually became a split package between WMA and ICM when he switched agencies in 2005, around the time of the Dancing premiere. ICM also packaged an U.S. version of Top Gear, which is now set up at History Channel. Additionally, ICM shepherded BBC Worldwide Prods’ foray into scripted series under then-BBC Worldwide Prods head Paul Telegdy (who’s now at NBC), brokering a deal for the company at Sony TV that yielded 3 pilots orders and the flop series, CBS’ Viva Laughlin.
Since then, BBC Worldwide Prods has changed strategy, opting not to be associated with studios and, instead, to develop and deficit-finance their own scripted projects independently. That direction intensified a year ago with the arrival of Jane Tranter, who now runs BBC Worldwide Prods, and the departure of Telegdy for NBC. As a result, BBC Worldwide Prods had opted not to have representation on the scripted side for the past 14 months. They recently reconsidered that decision and started meeting with agencies, ultimately deciding to keep representation for both scripted and unscripted under one roof at CAA. (Though ICM will continue to work with the company on Dancing and other projects in the works.)
As for the BBC America gig, I’m told all of the above dysfunction is why veteran TV exec Garth Ancier quit as president there. It’s also why so many other top executives, like Peter Liguori and Andrea Wong, have passed on the job. The latest candidate to surface is Herb Scannell, the MTV Networks veteran who served as vice chairman at the company before resigning in 2006. As Nickelodeon president, he helped usher in such hits as SpongeBob SquarePants, Rugrats, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, and Dora the Explorer. Most recently, Scannell launched the online video company Next New Networks. Some sources tell us he’s still eyeing a return to the TV executive ranks, others say he’s passed.
The position has been vacant since March 31 when Ancier officially exited the post after 3 years. But BBC Worldwide America started the search for a new top executive last November when the pending departure of Ancier was announced.