The decision to commission 'The Voice' is symbolic of everything that is wrong at the BBC, according to television management veteran Lord Grade - " a clone that is "totemic of a lack of willingness to take risks".
The former BBC chairman told journalists from the Broadcasting Press Guild yesterday that "the BBC is in a good place", despite the big shadow of cuts being proposed by the government ahead of charter renewal in 2016.
However, Lord Grade said the BBC needed to be vigilant, avoid making duds that could have come from any channel, and instead concentrate on investing in risk-taking and creating their own shows.
“The BBC has to prove, quite often, that it can appeal to everybody across the nation,” said Lord Grade, speaking in the dining room at Pinewood Studios, where he is the Chairman.
“Everybody pays the licence fee and everybody is entitled to get something from it. The question is how do you win that popularity. Do you do it through innovation, cleverness and creative ambition, risk? Or do you just copy someone else’s show. I was very critical of The Voice. I thought it was a mistake. A clone. I think 'The Voice' is totemic of a lack of willingness to take risks.
'The Voice' will be returning to the BBC for one final series in 2016, before moving to ITV for the following year.
“Every time [the BBC] commissions a programme it should be saying ‘why are we doing this?'” he said. “[The BBC is] the only broadcaster in the UK, one of the few broadcasters in the world, that can afford to take big risks and push the envelope and be ahead of the audience. That is their job.”
“When they do it, they do it brilliantly,” he said. “I would never argue with 'Strictly', I think it is the most perfect BBC show they invented here. If you’d said to me we are going to make ballroom dancing the biggest show on television, I would have laughed. But the BBC took the risk, they backed it, and they were 100% right. And baking. This is what the BBC should be doing. What it should not be doing is the ‘me-too’ stuff.”
Lord Grade had his own theories as to what impinges this kind of creativity at the BBC, the infamous multiple layers of middle-management that current director-general Lord Hall has pledged to reduce.
“It is like World of Warcraft trying to get to level six,” said Lord Grade. “It is a nightmare, talk to anybody. It is a miracle anything gets through that system and gets commissioned.”
When asked why he hadn't tackled these onion layers himself during the era when he was in charge, he said only, "We had other problems."
He also heaped praise on Alan Yentob, the BBC's former creative director who last week stood down from his £183,000-a-year position, in the wake of controversy surrounding his role with Kids Company and speculation that he had tried to use his authority at the Corporation to influence journalists investigating the charity.