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Q&A: ITV's Paul Jackson

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Paul Jackson got a moderate grilling from the youngsters attending this year's MGEITF Television & Young People forum on Friday morning. The group weren't afraid to quiz the ITV head of entertainment and comedy all the hot topics, including whether the channel has any influence in the selection X-Factor contestants, questions over the Louis Walsh affair, to wider trust in TV issues. DS caught up with him afterwards.

Do you enjoy hosting these sort of sessions?
It's always good with these things when you get input. I end up doing a lecture otherwise, and that's not much fun.

There were lots of questions - it was very interactive.
Yeah they were good; it makes it much better for the person doing it because you don't know what they're interested in until they tell you, so you could rabbit on forever. I mean I wish had done more about comedy, because they wanted to talk about that as well.

Talking of comedy, do you think that you've got an opportunity to capture that young audience with new content, perhaps where Channel 4 hasn't in recent times?
Yeah, I think it's good. I think really comedy is my first love - I've been in it all my life. I think it's good for the business that ITV has got back into it in a small way - even if we do four or five series next year and that would be it. And suddenly a lot writers and companies are coming to us, because at first I don't think they believed it, and then they've seen this year that we've commissioned a few. From nothing we've got now the likes of Richard Herring (You Can't Choose Your Friends) and Morwenna Banks (The Abbey) on the channel.

Do you think Michael Grade joining the channel had something to do with it?
Listen, I've love Michael and I've worked with him for a long time. The fact is we were doing all of this before Michael got there. And he's been very supportive of it and that's fantastic, but the decisions were made between me and Simon [Shaps] when he hired me.

Michael's got that background and an entertainment focus, so that's got to be good for you?
Yeah, when he arrived it was very good news. He's said all the right things - that he wants drama and comedy to be at the forefront of ITV's 'battle' back upwards and that's great to hear.

From what I've seen of this series of The X-Factor so far, you're trying to go for a warmer show, that's edgier at the same time.
And that's hard to pull off and sometimes luck has to be with you. The Louis thing in the end turned out to be a fantastic stroke of luck for us, and it wasn't manipulated. But it's easy to say and very hard to do.

What do think of the whole reality debate? Have you watched Big Brother this year?
I have watched it a bit, because you kind of have to. Though I just don't know how many more rather unpleasant foul-mouthed pole dancers I want to watch, getting their tits out and screaming at each other in the middle of the night. And I am a huge fan of Big Brother and I think it's one of the very rare occasions in modern television where a show has really burst through. It was completely different and not like anything else you'd ever seen. But inevitably with an extended season - it's on for nearly a third of the year now - you can't keep up the standard. I think this year it has 'jumped the shark' - somewhere between Shilpa and the halfway and all-girls house.

I guess people just want to be entertained.
It's kind of like Eastenders - how many unhappy, depressed, ignorant people shouting at each other do I want to watch in a week?

Being in Edinburgh, and with the Fringe on, have you been scouring at the stand-up circuit for new comedy talent?
I've been up here for a week, and Michaela [Hennessey-Vass - editor of ITV comedy] - the week before, and Zai [Bennett - ITV2 controller] has been here a few days. I think it's very much part of the job. I've been in the business for 35 years, and I must have been to Edinburgh over 30 times. I would do it for fun to be honest with you, but it's nice to do it with some sort of 'airtime' in my back pocket, which I didn't feel I had last year.

Thanks Paul!

Young persons aged 18+ who wish to register interest in attending TVYP 2008 should visit tvyp.co.uk.

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