ViacomCBS Networks UK’s director of programs Ben Frow has said the British TV industry is “inherently snobbish” and should care less about what people’s backgrounds are and more about their talent.
Frow admitted that he has “got a big chip on my shoulder” about a lack of inclusivity in the business, revealing at the Edinburgh TV Festival today that he was “floored” by a snobbish remark made by a rival a few years ago about his education.
“I was at Edinburgh a few years ago and a competitor of mine said to me, as I was about to walk out on stage for a debate: ‘You know for someone who hasn’t got a degree you’ve done very well to be up on this stage with us.’
“It actually floored me. I could get a bit tearful about it. I can’t believe you’d make a judgment about whether I have a degree or not. Who gives a s**t? I don’t know who’s got a degree in my team. They’re certainly a lot cleverer than I am but they’re not as talented as I am…that’s why I’m the boss.
“It’s not all about education, it is about talent. One of the things I like most about the job is the ability to promote and fast track talent.”
Frow, who described himself as the “most creative” network boss in the UK, said he has the same approach to diversity, saying it is “soul-destroying” to hear the same conversations around improving inclusion. He was speaking a day after presenter David Olusoga delivered a blistering MacTaggart Lecture, in which he called out decades of false dawns on diversity in the industry.
“I’m pleased with how we do on-screen we do better than some of our competitors. The team have tasked with every program being representative,” Frow said, pointing to recently-announced ViacomCBS initiatives.
“What I like is when we can sit down as a commissioning team and say right we’re going to do a no diversity no commissioning policy. If the production companies are not diverse we don’t really want to work with them. And if the production teams making our programs aren’t diverse then they simply won’t get the money.”
Frow recounted a conversation he had a couple of weeks ago with a production company, which said it only had someone junior who was from a BAME background and could not find anyone above that level. When the producer was told that it wouldn’t get the money, it found a more diverse assistant producer within a week. “I do believe if every broadcaster had a no diversity no commission policy what a difference would that make,” he added.
He reflected on a good of ratings year for Channel 5, thanks to a slew of what he called “warm, fuzzy” shows that have attracted viewers during lockdown, such as Our Yorkshire Farm, which were initially commissioned “as a rebellion against Brexit” but appealed to viewers as respite from coronavirus.
He also highlighted the forthcoming remake of All Creatures Great And Small as an example of how much Channel 5 has changed. The PBS co-production, which is likely to return for a second season, premieres on September 1 in the UK and is made by Colin Callender’s Playground.
In a fast-paced session, Frow also said he wants to do more property shows next year in response to people moving to the country due to coronavirus and an Anne Boleyn drama, as well as making Channel 5 “less safe.”
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