It has been announced that current BBC Three controller Danny Cohen will replace Jay Hunt as the controller of BBC One – the corporation’s flagship channel. We take a look at Cohen’s time as controller of the digital channel.


It has been announced that current BBC Three controller Danny Cohen will replace Jay Hunt as the controller of BBC One – the corporation’s flagship channel. Jay Hunt is leaving the corporation to join Channel Four where, co-incidentally, Danny Cohen used to work. So what can viewers expect from BBC One under Danny Cohen and should they really pay too much attention to his track record with BBC Three? After all the audiences of the two channels are completely different; BBC One is main-stream while BBC Three is ‘youth’ orientated. We take a look back at Cohen’s time with BBC Three.

Danny Cohen became controller of BBC Three in May 2007 who set about work to re-brand the digital channel and refocus its programming on a more defined audience base. BBC Three had become an easy target of tabloid newspapers because of the costs involved with running it and the programming it ran – which some considered lewd and not the province of the BBC. As BBC Three was also aimed at younger audiences that its fellow BBC channels it was deemed to be the corporation’s attempt at rivalling E4 and ITV2 and some felt that these channels were better replaced at serving such audiences. However, despite the tabloid attacks on the channel BBC Three had produced several hits which were transferred over to the main channels; such as Little Britain, Torchwood and The Apprentice: You’re Fired.

Part of Cohen’s re-branding of BBC Three involved the introduction of new on-screen logos which came into affect in 2003. Under his tenure BBC Three has introduced more factual programming to its line-up such as Blood, Sweat and T-Shirts and the follow-up series Blood, Sweat and Takeaways. Other new factual programmes introduced by Cohen to the channel include Britain’s Missing Top Model, The Adult Season and also The World’s Strictest Parents. Women, Weddings, War and Me recorded the highest ever audience appreciation for a documentary – a notable critical hit for Cohen at BBC Three. During the recent General Election BBC Three aired Young Voters’ Question Time to give first time voters in particular an interest and voice in the General Election. A full series of Young Voters’ Question Time has been commissioned for BBC Three.

Drama under Cohen on BBC Three has been more hit than miss. In 2008 a ‘season’ of pilots aired on the channel – in similar standing to the American television industry which screens pilots to viewers and then commissions series’ if they are successful. BBC Three screened six pilots to test audience interest in the different format of each. One of the pilots Dis/Connected was delayed, in being broadcast, because it revolved around the suicide of a teenager and at the time there had been several teenage suicides which had hit the headlines. Perhaps as a result of the delay, or the storyline itself, Dis/Connected was not a hit with audiences. Nor was fellow drama pilot West 10 LDN which starred Noel Clarke and Ashley Walters.

However, Cohen did commission Being Human and Phoo Action – two of the pilots – for full seasons. However, creative difficulties later led Phoo Action to be cancelled just weeks before filming was due to begin. Being Human did make it to screen though with some differences between the pilot and series; actor Russell Tovey was the only cast member to be retained from the pilot with Aidan Turner and Lenora Crichlow joining the cast. So far two seasons of Being Human have been made with a third currently in production and an American remake, starring Sam Witwear, is also currently in production. Being Human has been one of Cohen’s most notable drama hits on BBC Three. Coming of Age on BBC Three has run for two seasons which a third planned but despite that it is not a favourite of the tabloids. The series is seen as BBC Three’s version of The Inbetweeners but it does not enjoy the same popularity or ratings of the E4 sitcom – but it does perform well for BBC Three.

Danny Cohen notably axed the popular comedy series Pulling despite the fact ratings for it had risen during the second season. The comedy starred Tanya Franks, Sharon Horgan (who also co-wrote it) and Rebecca Staton but Cohen decided not to commission a third series and instead ordered a one-off special to tie up the storylines. Pulling was the victim of Cohen’s re-focusing of the channel on a younger audiences than Pulling attracted and as such as cancelled because it was ‘too old’ for the channel. The decision to cancel Pulling was widely criticised but Cohen did not relent and it ended following the one-off special.

Danny Cohen becomes controller of BBC One with immediate effect with tabloid speculation now shifting from who’ll replace Jay Hunt to who will replace him at BBC Three. Amongst the names being suggested are Zai Bennett, of ITV, and Matthew Littleford of UKTV.

Share Button