One of the UK’s most powerful talent agents has blasted British TV as an institution that’s run by “clever people making clever rubbish.” Peter Bennett-Jones, founder of Endemol-owned Tiger Aspect (Mr Bean, Billy Elliot), said last night at the annual BAFTA TV Lecture in London that “shaking things up needs to be a higher priority.” He added: “Original and polemical programming is in the casualty ward … My plea to writers is to pursue your passion, agitate away. We should be out there provoking and causing offence.” Bennett-Jones said that he disagrees with the priorities that Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and News Corp Deputy COO James Murdoch laid out in their recent Edinburgh TV Festival speeches. Schmidt said that programming decisions should be based on statistical analysis of viewing habits and data while Murdoch said they should be based on profitability. “I’m not saying ignore the data,” Bennett-Jones said. “I’m just saying don’t have so much faith in it. Stop asking Picasso and Michelangelo to paint by numbers.”
Bennett-Jones’ comments are important: With a client list that includes comedians Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard and Armando Iannucci, BBC news anchor Kirsty Walk calls Bennett-Jones “the man too powerful to piss off.”
But U.S. broadcasters don’t seem to agree. Bennett-Jones says that he has been battling with HBO on behalf of Iannucci, executive producer of VEEP, starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus. “Anybody who’s made programming for American broadcasters realises that as a programme supplier you’re treated with less respect than you are here. Quite often you have to just hand over the rushes, which would be an anathema here.”
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