Ben Frow has pledged to make Channel 5 “less safe and more alternative and more risky,” over the next five years, “to shake it up a bit.”
Speaking to an online Edinburgh Festival audience today, Frow, now director of programmes for all ViacomCBS UK operations, has no intention of stepping back from his hands-on content role for Channel 5. “I do think I’m the most creative channel controller in this country,” he said
He puts the channel’s lockdown boost down to “a successful balance of reversioning, repeating and always bringing in new shows. We didn’t go Covid at all, we went warm, fuzzy and feel good.”
He’s hoping that the upcoming remake of All Creatures Great and Small from Playground will capitalise on the same factors.
Having seen success with shows that give a bucolic take on living out of town, particularly in Yorkshire, he’s looking again at property programming. “We’ve tried property two or three times and it’s not worked. But it’s one of the things in the zeitgeist for next year.”
“There’s a lot more drama coming down the track” says Frow. One drama treatment is about Anne Boleyn, who is returning to the channel in factual and drama formats.
A new history event piece will look at the arrest, trial and execution of “my favourite person in history,” says Frow. “I haven’t finished my Anne Boleyn homage.”
Royals continue to win ratings for the channel, with shows every week on figures both dead and alive. “I thought royals were over last year, I never thought they’d be one of our big successes this year,” he says, citing George V who found 1.4 m in a Saturday night slot, plus a piece on Princess Anne and the continuing appeal of Megan and Harry.
On the reputational documentary front, the channel is doing a special with Esther Rantzen on bereavement and grief, a documentary on miscarriage and ITN Productions is working on a project based on the book War Doctor: Surgery on the Front Line.
“It’s all about the schedule,” said Frow, who claims to have never had an indie pitch a show based on a specific solution to a problem in the schedule. “We’ve always got an eye out for whose not being catered for [on other channels] and how do we cater for them. I want people to solve my schedule problems.”