ITV's Prince of Darkness aims to spice up its schedule

The analytical David Bergg won't suffer a failing show to live, writes Jeremy Lee.

It's not surprising that most people consider TV scheduling one of the dark arts.

Locked away in a dimly lit room for hours on end with nothing but spreadsheets for company, constructing a schedule designed to maximise both breadth and scale of audience while largely blind to what your rivals are up to, the job has been described as akin to playing a giant three-dimensional game of chess.

ITV's own practitioner, David Bergg, is famously known as the Prince of Darkness, which helps to confirm the air of mystery associated with such a job. Softly spoken, with a preference to avoid the spotlight, he brings an analytical and systematic mind to a job that has been described as one of the most powerful in British television.

Bergg, as one of the ITV big guns wheeled out to agencies for the upfronts, has skills not normally associated with the arcane world of programme scheduling -- most noticeably commercial astuteness -- and has thus become a familiar and popular figure among the media buying community.

Like others of his ilk, Bergg talks at great length about the schedule. And, using the tools of his trade, he usually illustrates his points with a spreadsheet.

Bergg likes spreadsheets. A lot. He has divided each of ITV's dayparts into half-hour segments that show its year-on-year audience performance. Different colours illustrate the results so far and thus he has created an ITV battle grid. The idea of the game is to convert those red blocks (audiences down 2% or more) into cream (static) or, even better, blue cells (audiences up more than 2%).

With characteristic optimism, Bergg describes these rogue red blocks as "opportunities for growth". As well as allowing him to monitor the channel's performance, he says the charts also allow ITV to focus on the year ahead.

"The thing about this job is I'm schizophrenic -- I'm looking at last night's ratings, the week we're about to bill but also already I'm thinking about next summer and what we can do to improve on this summer's performance," he says.

In a display of glasnost, these charts are shown to the agencies in order to demonstrate ITV's commitment to its programming -- the decision to field Bergg, and his spreadsheets, has been welcomed by agencies who seem to have warmed to his quiet, considered, but open manner.

Mick Desmond, the joint managing director of ITV, says that it was a deliberate policy to give Bergg a wider remit and put him in front of agencies and clients. "He has the unique ability to be able to straddle the commercial and creative world," he says.

It is a role Bergg relishes. "The main thing that came up in the upfronts is that we must not rest on our laurels. I hope that when these charts go up in front of the buyers that they acknowledge that we don't like red any more than they do. In the past, there has been a detachment between what the Network Centre has been trying to do and what the agencies need. This process shows that they are in fact identical goals," he says.

It is not just the agencies that have benefited from Bergg's input. He has also brought the Network Centre closer to the sales teams.

"In my 18 months at ITV there have been ups and downs -- a definite up has been working with David," Graham Duff, the chief executive of Granada Enterprises, says.

"He is supremely knowledgeable about his subject," he adds.

Bergg's commercial shrewdness stems from his early career in TV research departments, where he provided sales teams with information to maximise their sell. This is a policy that he has maintained throughout the various TV stations he has worked at. "The links with the sales teams are closer than they have ever been," he says.

While Bergg manages to walk the tightrope between garnering respect from both the creatives in TV production and from the commercial world of ad sales, he is not afraid to make decisions that the programme makers may not necessarily like.

Bergg recently dropped the Brian Conley vehicle 'Judgment Day' and the Sunday-night peak drama 'Fortysomething' from the schedule because they were not bringing in the audiences he wanted. The results seem to have paid off -- Fortysomething's replacement drew nearly 1m extra viewers to the channel.

This autumn, ITV has invested heavily in drama with 'Foyle's War' and 'Prime Suspect' returning to the channel. Other key commissions include Ray Winstone in 'Henry VIII' and a new Kay Mellor drama 'Between the Sheets'.

And Bergg is optimistic that the schedule will help banish more red squares from his battle grid. "From my perspective, this has the potential to be the strongest ITV autumn I can remember," he says.

The Bergg file

1993 GMTV, controller of marketing, research and acquisition

1994 BBC1, scheduler

1996 Channel 5, controller of planning and acquisition

1997 ITV, director of planning and strategy

1999 Sky One, general manager

2001 ITV2, director of programmes

2002 ITV, director of programme strategy

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