MEDIA HEADLINER: Television addict aims to turn the tables on ITV's detractors - David Liddiment knows he must keep the hits coming on ITV

It's not the jolliest time to be at the helm of ITV. Advertising

revenues are tumbling, ITV investment is being stretched to invest in

digital and new channels and there's a significant skirmish over the low

ratings for ITV's new football programming.



David Liddiment, recently promoted from ITV's director of programmes to

director of channels, needs to smile on through and entertain

advertisers and viewers alike with lots of great television. And

Liddiment is smiling: "I'm one of those people who loves my job. I'm

passionate about it. I love TV, I love programmes and I get high on

talent."



Despite the recent criticism, Liddiment, who delivered the keynote

MacTaggart lecture at the Edinburgh Television Festival last week, has

certainly earned confidence in his ability. When he arrived at the

Network Centre in the autumn of 1997, it was another rather poor moment

in time for ITV.



Along with the then chief executive, Richard Eyre, and the marketing

director, John Hardie, Liddiment started to turn things round. They may

not have hit all the ambitious targets that they pledged to reach, but

even rival Mark Thompson, director of TV at the BBC, says that Liddiment

and his programming team "brought real boldness and flair".



The biggest score has been with Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, while

Popstars has also been cult viewing. But Survivor, ITV's answer to Big

Brother, hasn't done the trick and there's been a bit of a lull.



According to former colleague Jerry Hill, now chief operating officer at

Initiative Media, Liddiment is "a massively resilient individual and a

resourceful individual. He's remarkably in tune with what the public

wants." He will need to be, with an ITV revenue deficit of £175

million year on year, according to figures from Optimedia.



His track record backs up assertions that he has plenty of commercial

nous as well as creative ability. His career started in 1974 at the ad

agency Benton & Bowles. A year later he'd crossed into TV at Granada,

where he spent the best part of 20 years, apart from a two-year sojourn

as the head of entertainment at the BBC. Along the way, he was put in

charge of Coronation Street, devised This Morning and commissioned

Cracker, Men Behaving Badly and Fantasy Football League. His last job

before moving to the Network Centre was managing director of Granada UK

Broadcasting.



So, has he got the stamina to keep the hits coming? "Given the revenue

situation, we are aware that ITV must put its best foot forward,"

answers Liddiment, who has just launched the new autumn programme

schedule. As well as spin-offs from Popstars in the shape of Soapstars

and Pop Idols, there's the new soap Night and Day, which will have

raunchier editions playing after the watershed.



Saturday night is a thorny issue. Never fear, Blind Date's still there,

but ITV's new Premiership football highlights programme is in the seven

o'clock spot and a lot of people are nervous about that after its first

outings scored ratings firmly below the five million mark.



Liddiment says: "As far as our sports proposition is concerned, ITV has

been forward in making premium sport free to air. It has invested in

Formula One, Champions League and now the Premiership. In that sense

we're serving our advertisers splendidly. Premiership is two weeks old.

No show is perfect in its first weeks. There's a long way to go before

we work out if I've been foolhardy or not."



He has had to assume more responsibility than his job title implies,

having worked without an ITV chief executive for more than a year until

Stuart Prebble took over in April this year. But the fact that he was

chosen to deliver the MacTaggart lecture, treading in the footsteps of

such luminaries as Greg Dyke, the director-general of the BBC, speaks

volumes for the respect in which he is held.



Clearly he draws strength from his love affair with TV. It's an

enthusiasm that, according to Mick Desmond, the managing director of

Granada Broadcasting, "screams at you". Liddiment recently sat next to

John Perriss, the chairman of Zenith, at a 30 Club dinner. The two had

never spoken together at any length before. They discussed British

comedy.



"I was amazed by his in-depth knowledge of Benny Hill, Dick Emery and

his sense of the heritage of good British comedy. He has a real passion

for TV," Perriss says.