MEDIA HEADLINER: Old school programming ace espouses quality at any cost - Will Granada's new glossy affair give ITV drama back its kudos? Jeremy Lee asks

Channel 4 conducted a survey of people's brand associations of TV stations. The results claimed if ITV were a car it would be a Ford, if it were a holiday it would be Spain and if it were a meal it would be fish and chips.

This may be a bit unfair on the network. After all, by its nature as the market leader it has to appeal to as wide a range of the population as possible, hence recent commissions such as the excruciating Stars and Their Doubles.

But ITV also has a heritage of producing quality drama - the pinnacle of which was considered to be Granada's production of Paul Scott's Jewel in the Crown in the early 80s.

Since then, ITV has produced some groundbreaking drama, such as Cracker, Inspector Morse and Prime Suspect. But a criticism levelled at the ITV Network Centre is that it seized on its successes, such as London's Burning and Heartbeat, and flogged them to death - effectively turning them into soaps. TV buyers can find this frustrating because it minimises the unique cover to advertisers that such dramas should provide.

So imagine the surprise when Adam Smith, Zenith Media's head of knowledge management, wrote to the agency's clients gushing about one of ITV newest dramas, The Forsyte Saga, which started on Sunday.

"I've been criticising ITV for ten years but this is so good. It's brilliantly cast and the acting is superb and it will be good for all audiences,

Smith wrote.

The man behind it is Granada TV's controller of drama and comedy, Andy Harries, hailed as the most powerful creative in British commercial television - a suggestion he laughs off.

Harries is, without a doubt, a luvvie and although aware of the financial restrictions placed upon ITV, he makes no secret of his frustration in finding funding for his projects. "Quality costs money and it's a constant battle to get the money to get these projects off the ground,

he says.

Although careful to praise the support given to him by ITV's director of programmes, David Liddiment, and the drama supremo Nick Lloyd, he adds: "TV should be rich and diverse but currently the balance is tipped commercially. You can't do these things cheaply."

The Forsyte Saga is a co-production between Granada and WGBH Boston and cost just under £1 million an hour to make. But Harries doesn't believe in doing things by halves, which must surely test the bean counters at Granada.

He has found an expensive cast for The Forsyte Saga, including Ioan Gruffudd. Further examples of his ambition include the signing of Ray Winstone for the forthcoming ITV production of Henry VIII, and the current Dr Zhivago shoot in Slovakia using fake snow to create the right conditions - all very Hollywood.

Harries did give Hollywood a shot but admits he returned "with his tail between his legs

as a career as a director failed to take off.

From his 16th floor eyrie at the London Television Centre, Harries controls a department that is responsible for Granada commissions such as The Royle Family for the BBC and Cold Feet for ITV.

"People said that neither The Royle Family nor Cold Feet would work," Harries says. It is a credit to his tenacity that the productions got off the ground. When The Royle Family swept the board at the 2000 British Comedy Awards the show's writer, Caroline Aherne, was effusive in her praise for Harries, who was its executive producer. This led some to describe Harries as the most famous person never heard of outside the TV industry.

Harries is philosophical about accusations that ITV is on a downward spiral. "I've seen it all before. If it's not ITV that everyone is knocking then it's the BBC,

he points out. Particularly pertinent when Greg Dyke is under fire for criticising BBC's white middle-class bias when ITV1 would love to have this audience.

Harries is also partly responsible for the reinvention of the comedy drama genre with shows such as The Grimleys and Cold Feet. "I don't like the sitcom formula so moved to producing comedy dramas, which is the formula they use in the States,

he says.

Evolving from the old school of TV production, Harries believes in "event television". He preceded Gerry Robinson and his army of accountants at Granada and he admits that he follows the ethos of high production values instigated by Granada's founders Sidney and Cecil Bernstein.

"My ambition is to make 'must-watch, appointment-to-view' programmes," he says.

Despite limited resources, Harries could go a long way towards turning perceptions of ITV into Saab, Tuscany and foccacia.

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