UPDATED, 9:56 AM: Bad Robot today officially confirmed Deadline’s reports that BBC drama controller Ben Stephenson will be leaving his post to join J.J. Abrams’ production company as head of the TV division.
“It is a thrill to welcome Ben Stephenson into the Bad Robot family,” Abrams siad. “His love of great TV, his passion and respect for writers, and his remarkable taste are all in evidence through his groundbreaking work at the BBC. We can’t wait to work with Ben to tell engaging and impactful stories.”
Also confirmed is the transition of Bad Robot’s Kathy Lingg to the role of producer, remaining a co-executive producer on four existing Bad Robot series and pilots, Westworld, Roadies, 11/22/63 and Person of Interest, as well as Athena Wickham’s exit to run Jonah Nolan’s Kilter Films, which co-produces Person of Interest and Westworld, with Bad Robot.
“It has been a great joy to work with Kathy Lingg for the past eight years,” said Abrams. “Her outstanding leadership and dedication is outdone only by her kindness and generosity… I respect and adore Athena more than I can express, and am so glad we get to keep collaborating as she transitions to head-up Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy’s Kilter Films TV division.” (Bad Robot’s full announcement under our original story.)
Having led BBC Drama since 2008, Stephenson ordered and oversaw more than 450 hours of drama a year on the Brit pubcaster, including Sherlock, Call The Midwife, Luther, Happy Valley, The Missing and Wolf Hall. He also helped reinvigorate BBC Two drama with such series as Peaky Blinders, The Fall and The Honourable Woman. This month he received the Royal Television Society special recognition Judges’ Award for his extraordinary contribution to the genre. “He is a passionate believer in the writers’ vision and in recent years has developed relationships with international partners and been instrumental in establishing BBC Drama’s reputation around the world,” the BBC said in a statement today.
“Running BBC drama has been an honor – it’s the most fun job in British TV,” Stephenson said in a statement. “Whilst it’s a massive wrench to leave, I cannot wait to begin a new adventure in LA with JJ. I have long admired his work and am thrilled to be joining the Bad Robot family.”
PREVIOUSLY, March 23: As former BBC drama controller Ben Stephenson is finalizing his long-rumored move to Hollywood to run J.J. Abrams’ production company Bad Robot, I hear there are other executive changes underway at the shingle, which has a TV deal at Warner Bros. TV and a feature one at Paramount.
Kathy Lingg, who had been overseeing TV development for Bad Robot, is expected to segue to a producing pod deal with the company. She will continue in her capacity as co-executive producer on existing Bad Robot series and pilots, including Person of Interest, Westworld, 11/22/63 and Roadies.
Athena Wickham, who has worked under Lingg in TV and has served as a producer on the company’s Jonah Nolan series POI and Westworld, is said to be leaving to run Nolan’s company, Kilter Films.
Abrams’ long-time partner and collaborator at Bad Robot, Bryan Burk, is staying put though he may focus on feature projects going forward.
Stephenson had been rumored for the Bad Robot job since news about his talks to depart the BBC surfaced las month. The original plan had been for him to start at the LA-based company by end of March.
Here is today’s announcement from Bad Robot:
Veteran television executive Ben Stephenson has joined Bad Robot to head-up its television division, announced today by J.J. Abrams. In his new role, Stephenson will be based in LA and oversee all aspects of development and production for Bad Robot’s TV department.
“It is a thrill to welcome Ben Stephenson into the Bad Robot family,” said Abrams. “His love of great TV, his passion and respect for writers, and his remarkable taste are all in evidence through his groundbreaking work at the BBC. We can’t wait to work with Ben to tell engaging and impactful stories.”
Stephenson comes to Bad Robot from the BBC, where he has served as Controller, Drama Commissioning since 2009. In this position, Stephenson commissioned all BBC drama programming, including Sherlock, Luther, The Missing, The Honourable Woman, Top of the Lake, The Fall, Happy Valley, Call The Midwife, Line of Duty, and Peaky Blinders, winning many Emmy, Golden Globe, BAFTA, and Royal Television Society (RTS) Awards. He also oversaw the long-running shows Doctor Who and EastEnders, including this year’s 30th anniversary live week. Previously, Stephenson served in roles at various companies, including Channel 4, Tiger Aspect, Yorkshire TV, Granada TV, LWT, and Shed Productions. Earlier this year, he was presented with the RTS Judges Award for Outstanding Contribution.
“J.J. Abrams is without doubt one of the world’s greatest writers, directors and producers and I couldn’t be more excited to be joining him at Bad Robot,” said Stephenson. “Bad Robot already has an extraordinary reputation for great TV and I’m hugely looking forward to working with some of the world’s best writers to help take the company into its next phase. The BBC has been a thrilling journey and I am grateful to everyone I have worked with and all the wonderful programmes I have been able to work on, but I am ready for a new challenge and can’t wait to begin a whole new adventure with J.J.”
Bad Robot’s Kathy Lingg will transition to the role of producer, rendering co-executive producer services on four existing Bad Robot series and pilots.
“It has been a great joy to work with Kathy Lingg for the past eight years,” said Abrams. “Her outstanding leadership and dedication is outdone only by her kindness and generosity. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with Kathy on four series she helped champion, Westworld, Roadies, 11/22/63 and Person of Interest.
Athena Wickham will exit the company at the end of March to run Kilter Films, which co-produces Person of Interest and Westworld, along with Bad Robot.
“Ten years ago, Athena Wickham began working with me as my assistant. She has been at Bad Robot ever since. My sincere apologies go out to her for that. Since then, she has become one of the smartest, hard-working, and impressive executives I’ve ever known. I respect and adore Athena more than I can express, and am so glad we get to keep collaborating as she transitions to head-up Jonah Nolan and Lisa Joy’s Kilter Films TV division.”