Granada's Jackson Making Hits Stateside

It's fun and game shows for former Beeb bigwig
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Nothing from Granada America CEO Paul Jackson's wide range of projects takes him back to his roots quite like his latest, which focuses on classic American game shows. CBS' upcoming Game Show Marathon is a fitting hybrid for Jackson—marrying the reality fare he has produced for years with the venerable “panel” shows, as game shows are called in his native Great Britain, that he grew up on.

“I was brought up in that genre,” says Jackson. “I've never really done traditional game shows during my time in the business, and here I am executive-producing them.”

Game Show Marathon consists of seven one-hour celebrity elimination episodes, all based on weekly rotating staples from the Mark Goodson/Bill Todman library, which includes Match Game, Card Sharks and What's My Line?. Granada developed the concept around its British hit Ant & Dec's GameshowMarathon, which was introduced as part of its parent company's 50th-anniversary celebration of its independent UK network, ITV.

Marathon, a programming partnership with rights-holder FremantleMedia North America, also pays homage to Jackson's father, the late T. Leslie Jackson. The elder Jackson, who started as a BBC producer in the early 1950s before rising to lead all of its game-show runners until his retirement in 1970, had served as executive producer of the popular British versions of This Is Your Life and What's My Line?.

Starting out in the industry, Jackson says, he thought it would be “too uncomfortable” working alongside his dad at the BBC, so he waited for him to retire before coming on board. In 1971, he became a BBC “runner”—or production assistant—and was named producer eight years later.

Rising to executive producer, he left the BBC in 1982, going on to produce and direct an eclectic mix of projects, from BBC comedies to Oscar-winning short The Appointments of Dennis Jennings. Fourteen years later, having amassed a strong track record as a programming executive with companies ranging from his own production outfit to Carlton Television, he returned to fulfill his father's prophecy: that he would one day reach the upper echelons of the venerable British broadcaster.

Jackson became the BBC's head of entertainment in 1996 and, subsequently, its entertainment-division controller. But his second stint at “the Beeb” lasted just four tumultuous years, as he toiled under a notorious taskmaster. “The job became unbearably bureaucratic and intolerable,” he says. “I couldn't stand working for [controversial former BBC Director General] John [Birt] any longer.”

Despite his premature departure, Jackson left his mark on the BBC. For one, he greenlighted production of its acclaimed comedy The Office, which later expanded across the pond—in both BBC America and NBC versions.

Today, the Englishman has mixed feelings about the BBC. “People love and hate it simultaneously,” he says. “It's always been a strange mix between a stupefying bureaucracy and a highly creative place to work.”

Jackson became chief executive of Granada Productions, Australia, in 2001 but returned to the UK in January 2003 as director of international formats and entertainment after Granada merged with Carlton. Later that year, he was named to lead the bicoastal U.S.-based production entity of ITV, the largest foreign-owned supplier of programming to the U.S.

Charged with expanding growth, Jackson came to America with his wife, two daughters and a plan to surround himself with top producing talent. While he relies heavily on his producers, Jackson also feels an obligation to be as involved as possible in all of his company's projects; he even produces a few programs himself. “To a certain extent, the networks look to me,” he says. “They are going to call us if they don't like what they get, so it seems to me that I need to be as close [to projects] as I can.”

Prior to his arrival, Granada was producing the summer ABC reality series I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here; short-lived 2002 Fox sitcom The Grubbs; TV movies; and a few cable series. Jackson says I'm a Celebrity's demise after two cycles was a vital learning experience. “I think we went wrong with that because we employed one American out of a 130-person crew,” he says. “The lesson I learned is that, next time, we employed one Brit out of a 130-person crew, and we made a better show.”

A MUCH BROADER SLATE

Under Jackson's stewardship, the company significantly broadened its slate. Granada America is now turning out a second season of Fox's Nanny 911 and summer series Hell's Kitchen, as well as third seasons of MTV's Room Raiders and A&E's Airline. In addition, its new crime series First 48 came out of the gate strong for A&E, while VH1 has found a franchise with Celebrity Fit Club, entering its third cycle.

Jackson also did a deal with VH1 for But Can They Sing?, something of a “surreality” show that features quirky celebrities ranging from Joe Pantoliano to Morgan Fairchild warbling off-key. Jackson has a number of other projects in the works, including a possible syndicated strip.

Mike Darnell, Fox's executive VP of alternative programming and specials, calls Jackson an “extraordinary” executive with a knack for creating hit programs. “Regardless of the genre, he always seems to find a twist that makes a concept both interesting and accessible,” Darnell says. “He has a tremendous grasp of how to hook an audience and keep them captivated while telling a compelling story.”

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