ITV’s Director of Television Kevin Lygo has defended the viewing figures and rejected criticism of its ITV2 jewel Love Island, following the finale of the fifth series of the show earlier this week, saying claims the show is past its peak are well off the mark.
With ratings for the finale down on previous years, Lygo told the Edinburgh Television Festival: “This is a pattern you see when new programs come along and they’re huge phenomenons. On catch up, it’s the best performing series ever. Who would think you could invent a program that runs every night at 9pm for eight weeks and keep viewers, especially young viewers who are hard to find now? There’s many years left in it. The challenge thrown down to producers is to make some subtle changes to spice it up a bit and keep it as fresh as you can.”
The industry vet also brushed off the 33,000 viewers’ complaints made to Ofcom, most concerning a single incident with a volatile blow-up by villa resident Faye.
“The thing about complaints these days is every week there’s a new most complained about show,” said Lygo. “Ashley in Britain’s Got Talent was the most complained about [with Diversity’s performance inspired by Black Lives Matter], then he went on to win a BAFTA, then Piers stormed off [Good Morning Britain], now it’s Love Island. It’s really easy to complain these days.
“You have to take them at face value. What are they complaining about and have they got a point? Did we overstep the mark? It’s very easy to take one episode and think it’s too much, when it’s a longer term thing we should be concerned about.”
Reflecting that the complaints came on the back of all broadcasters’ tightened duties of care to reality show participants issued by Ofcom following incidents including the suicides of two former Love Island contestants and former host Caroline Flack, Lygo was quick to point out that ITV was leading the field in this regard.
The exec said: “We’re the gold standard. Ofcom took all our recommendations and made them what they believed should be done. How people are selected, GPS are consulted, loads of people don’t make it through and find themselves on other program which are maybe not so rigorous. During the recording of the show, there’s lots of counseling available. There’s a lot going on. When they come out, they’re treated very well and a lot of them say that.”
Lygo touched on the balancing act between protecting participants while providing entertainment for viewers: “The ratings go up when there’s a bit of conflict, and it’s an area where you have to take editorial judgment in the minute. It’s an hour out of a day and, generally speaking, they get the tone right. People do shout at other people. As long as it’s not physically threatening or too inflammatory, it’s okay.”
Another controversy Lygo fielded this year was the decision by ITV to air the final episode of week-long primetime drama Viewpoint, following allegations of serious misconduct against its star Noel Clarke. Lygo admitted it was a “loaded decision”, reflecting: “People had watched four episodes, it was the denouement of a thriller – there was much debate and in the end we thought it was best to take it off the main channel.
“Being a public service broadcaster, you’re uninvited in people’s homes. I thought people might be offended, but also there were millions of people who had watched, (plus) the 200 people who had worked on that show whose work might never be shown. So we made it available on the hub for a short period of time and hedged our bets, really.”
Since October 2020, Lygo has been ITV’s MD of its new media and entertainment division, following the broadcaster’s reorganization.
Of the new structure, he explained: “We wanted to bring together in one place all aspects of broadcasting, the programming and the delivery, so that it is more in line with modern behaviour and tastes. We have two defined goals here – one is mass simultaneous reach on linear TV, and (the other is) to come alive with our on demand offering, to adapt the type of programming we’ll be making.”
While this includes commissioning the first drama on ITV2 in a decade as well as providing more factual on the channel for young people, one big head-scratching challenge remains on the main channel: how to replace the sound and fury that Piers Morgan brought to Good Morning Britain. Accepting that “he’s a very difficult act to follow”, Lygo said of the temporary replacements that have so far included Alastair Campbell and Richard Madeley: “Not everyone is auditioning to replace Piers. We’re looking to see what the best thing is.”
Lygo added his voice to those supporting Jack Thorne’s call for to make TV roles on and off screen more accessible for disabled people.
“You have to be realistic about what you can achieve in the short term. TV has been quite good about responding, it’s been bad in not responding earlier. If you take diversity on screen, all broadcasters have upped their game, but it’s a continuous thing. You have to do it on screen and stick with it; you have to do it off screen which is in many ways harder.
“Mainly that’s about location and drama, and we have to ensure now that doesn’t continue. I would hope with more studio based shows, which we do a lot of, they would be designed more appropriately. We’ve got to do more.
“There has been good intention, but it’s been going too slowly. There is a debate about quotas. I don’t mind quotas to drive the behavior of everybody in the business. This must be a continuing proposition from everybody.”