Editor Helene Simpson knows that, despite all the analysis and hard work, some shows won’t be successful for long. Like all networks and stations across the UK, she has to actively decide when programmes run their course.
“We’re all agreed there’s such amazing talent on our screens but there’s a natural ceiling,” says Simpson, who is head of commissioning and editorial strategy at ITV and non-executive director of its parent company, ITV Studios.
“A lot of the TV we’re producing today is based on ideas we had five or 10 years ago and some of them have just lost their way. We have to recognise that this is what happens and there’s nothing to be embarrassed about and there’s no use sugar-coating it. You don’t want to force through a horrible script you know a pilot will flop. It’s all about acknowledging how television works.”
Simpson, a former producer and executive, comes up with programmes for and around ITV from the variety of the network – from a documentary about the history of the Blues FM network to the controversial research into one of Britain’s most notorious paedophiles.
“I don’t know who else you’d like in charge of commissioning and editorial,” she says. “I don’t think you could say it’s any particular channel. There’s so much great talent there. I’ve got a problem sitting in my chair having so much input on ideas. They tend to be very well-crafted because there’s so much money being thrown around in the show. For me, I’m primarily a festival of ideas. I’m just about to get on a plane to America, where there’s nobody in charge of commissioning. You don’t get enough of that.”
One commission she recently gave her seal of approval to, and with whom she’s recently become friendly, is a documentary about her work as head of ITV’s drama commissioning unit. It will be a look at how she raised the bar on shows such as Coronation Street, and it is a subject she is keen to expand further.
“I think we could launch a whole kind of genre of English-language television,” she says. “It will encompass everything – dramas, sitcoms, comedies, made-for-television movies. We could do a Jamie Oliver special – we’re all guilty of thinking he’s fine.”
Simpson is also looking to make television shows for people who no longer want their whole diet of red-meat meals, even if it is perhaps no longer quite so cuddly and high in protein.
“We’re going into food,” she says. “We know that people want more than just what they can buy in the supermarket and we want to go much deeper.”
She is particularly interested in working with young talent – especially from the production and marketing sides of television.
“The channels are just amazing. The fact that we can think we have a creative future beyond the box is fantastic.”
And even in this area, as with many broadcasters, she can not help but look to the entertainment scene. “We need to be thinking about ways of making the creative side of television more familiar to younger people,” she says.