Channel 4 Sparks Anger After Swapping Producers On Flagship Election Night Show Without Formal Process

Channel 4 Alternative Election Night
Katherine Ryan, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Rylan Clark-Neal: The new hosts of Channel 4's Alternative Election Night. Channel 4

EXCLUSIVE: Channel 4 has stoked anger in the British television industry after swapping producers on its tentpole election night show without a formal competitive process.

The British broadcaster announced last month that BBC Studios-backed Expectation will co-produce its Alternative Election Night on December 12, the day Britain heads to the polls in a crunch vote that could determine the country’s future relationship with the EU.

The decision to hand Expectation the Alternative Election Night, a live election results show with an entertainment twist, meant that Endemol Shine Group outfit Zeppotron was sidelined after originally creating the format in 2010 and having produced it on three separate occasions since the turn of the decade.

Two sources told Deadline that the decision was made without a formal competitive pitching process and that Channel 4 has had to go back to Zeppotron to request key production materials to maintain the show’s consistency. Channel 4 said it asked five companies to pitch for the show and Expectation was awarded the production contract on merit.

The unusual production switch has inflamed existing concerns about the closeness of Channel 4’s relationship with Expectation — which has secured 10 of its 20 commissions from the broadcaster since setting up in 2017 — and there is industry disquiet about how the broadcaster has treated Zeppotron.

Describing how the Alternative Election Night process played out, a well-placed source said Zeppotron’s managing director Ruth Phillips originally approached Channel 4 after the election was called to ask if the broadcaster wanted to stage the show for a fourth time. Zeppotron had a plan of action and presenters lined-up, according to this person.

The source said Channel 4 was initially cool on revisiting the Alternative Election Night because it worried that the seriousness of the vote might require a more sober approach to election coverage. It ultimately decided to proceed, but a second source said Zeppotron was not asked to submit a formal plan and budget for the show, and wasn’t invited into Horseferry Road to pitch its ideas. Phillips was later told Expectation had been awarded the contract close to the time it was announced by Channel 4.

Two sources said Expectation — run by former Endemol Shine president Tim Hincks and ex-ITV content chief Peter Fincham — offered to make the show on a lower budget than in previous years. It has also brought different presenters to the mix, with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Katherine Ryan and Rylan Clark-Neal hosting. Zeppotron has used David Mitchell as a host on the past three shows, with other regulars including Richard Osman and Jeremy Paxman.

The sources acknowledged that Zeppotron, despite creating the show in 2010, no longer controls the rights. This is because of a deal that Channel 4 did for the 2015 edition when ITN, which makes Channel 4 News, was brought in to co-produce and inject a newsier edge to the show.

But this has not prevented some awkward conversations following the award of the Alternative Election Night to Expectation. Channel 4 had to go back to Zeppotron to request the program’s titles and set, our sources said. Zeppotron agreed to the request, mindful that Channel 4 remains an important customer. It produces high-volume, long-running brands including 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown for the broadcaster.

Explaining the contract award process, a Channel 4 spokesman said: “Five production companies pitched to co-produce an Alternative Election Night show with ITN Productions — we approached production companies directly to bring their ideas due to the uncertainty around the timing of the general election.”

Channel 4 did not run a formal tender process because of the quick turnaround time and stressed that the show was awarded to Expectation on creative merit. Deadline asked Channel 4 several times if Zeppotron was made aware that it was involved in a competitive process to win back the show, but the broadcaster did not answer the question directly.

Phillips and other Endemol Shine executives are said to be privately seething about how Channel 4 has handled the matter, but have decided against lodging a formal complaint. The anger is shared by others in the industry. “They have stolen the Alternative Election Night,” one source said of the Channel 4 decision. “It’s kind of indefensible, isn’t it?” added the boss of a major Channel 4 supplier.

For some, it has compounded controversy over Channel 4’s decision to award Expectation the contract for another flagship — a new daily live show hosted by former BBC Breakfast presenter Steph McGovern. Expectation is co-producing The Steph Show with Yorkshire’s Can Can Productions, but industry insiders have questioned the wisdom of involving the Notting Hill-based company in a program that symbolizes Channel 4’s move to Leeds. Channel 4 has said The Steph Show was commissioned “purely on merit” after a “rigorous” pitch process.

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