‘The Office’ Producer Ash Atalla Says This Week Saw “Black Monday” For TV Industry After Proposed Layoffs At Channel 4 & Paramount

This week saw a “Black Monday” for the TV industry due to the proposed layoffs at Channel 4 and Paramount, according to storied The Office and IT Crowd producer Ash Atalla.

Atalla predicted there will be “less” shows made this year, “not more,” and that freelancers are “hurting” due to the industry slowdown, compounded by the redundancy plans.

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On Monday, Channel 4, for which Atalla’s Roughcut TV has made a wealth of shows down the years including current hit Big Boys, announced it will be laying off around 240 staff as part of a ‘Fast Forward’ strategy, which will see Film4 and TV drama commissioning merged. Channel 5-owner Paramount, meanwhile, is prepping to make hundreds of layoffs in the States and UK-based international studios boss Maria Kyriacou is leaving.

“Yesterday felt like a ‘Black Monday’ in the world of TV,” Atalla said last night on a Royal Television Society panel. “I can tell [it’s not a good market] from a hiring point of view. When people come in to see us for jobs we sense there are more crews around and I can see people are hurting. I don’t think there will be more shows made this year – I think there will be less.”

Atalla was speaking after Film & TV Charity research found that nearly half of the UK TV and film industry’s freelance community is struggling financially.

“Massive reset”

Banijay UK boss Patrick Holland said a “massive reset” in TV commissioning is taking place, meaning it is “time for freelancers to look at how they can re-skill, looking into different parts of the industry.”

He said mid-range factual shows costing £150,000 ($190,000) to £250,000 ($317,000) per hour have “disappeared from the market,” but Banijay labels making premium unscripted are “smashing it out the park,” while he cited opportunities in priority areas outside of London. The vast majority of Channel 4’s layoffs will be in London and the Gogglebox network will soon leave its Horseferry Road premises, but it is committed to hubs in the likes of Leeds and Glasgow.

Holland said a “fewer, bigger, better” approach to commissioning has been taking place “in droves,” pointing to big bets such as the Big Brother and Survivor reboots, both of which are made by Banijay. The Gladiators reboot, meanwhile, has been generating record ratings for the BBC this month.

Furthermore, Atalla predicted broadcasters may opt for more lower-budget scripted shows in the vein of ITV’s smash post office drama – its biggest hit since Downton Abbey – and he said this is “not a bad thing.”

“That show didn’t have ‘whizz bang explosions’ but was simple, old-fashioned storytelling,” he added. “How often do we watch shows and think, ‘They have spent too much money on it, they have lost the plot’.”

He urged broadcasters to continue taking risks on new talent and said a digital-first strategy allows them to do this, pointing out that Jack Rooke’s Big Boys performs poorly on linear overnights but its second season is 40% up on the first when all viewing is taken into account.

“Ricky Gervais was not Gervais when we made The Office and Chris O’Dowd was not O’Dowd when we made The IT Crowd,” he added. “You have to remind the broadcasters that [big] shows don’t happen overnight.”

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