Shock waves rippled across the UK television industry with the news that Lorraine Heggessey would be leaving her post as chief executive of Talkback Thames; producer of Britain’s Got Talent, The X Factor, The Apprentice and The Bill.
Heggessey – an industry heavyweight – took over from Peter Fincham in 2005 and led Talkback Thames to huge successes through some of the nation’s biggest brand shows.
A spokeswoman for Talkback Thames said, “We can confirm that Lorraine Heggessey is stepping down as the chief executive of Talkback Thames. Sara Geater will now take over as interim chief executive for Talkback Thames reporting into Tony Cohen. No further comment at this time.”
Heggessey’s TV career began in 1979 as a BBC News trainee. Highlights include the Channel 4 show Hard News, editing science series QED, and a producer of Panorama. Her posts as Head of BBC Children’s and Director of BBC Factual and Learning lead her to become controller of BBC1, the first female in the role. As controller she helped the channel successfully revive Doctor Who as well as introducing Strictly Come Dancing. And it was her controversial move of the evening news bulletin to 10pm that paved the way for 9pm drama hits including Spooks, Cutting It and Hustle.
A report in Broadcast stated, “It was known that the Talkback boss fought hard to save The Bill, and if owners Freemantle are making her the scapegoat for its loss, it is more than a little harsh.” ITV’s decision to cancel the long-running police series (26 years old) had a huge impact on the company, to which Talkback owned the rights.
Sara Geater, the company’s chief operating officer, is to take over as interim chief executive. Like Heggessey, Geater will report to Tony Cohen, chief executive of Fremantle Media, the production, distribution and rights arm of RTL, which is Talkback Thames’s parent company.
The next few months will be telling for Talkback. Replacing Heggessey will demand a new media-minded leader with a host of creative ideas to fill the void of the axed shows. With the industry coming through one of the slowest periods for commissioning, there is real emphasis on finding new creative talent. A new and successful long-running series is just what ITV – and perhaps more importantly – Talkback Thames, need.
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