Ready or not, US television audiences are about to come face to face with journalist Jeremy Paxman.
Buoyed by an expected trebling of profits for the latest financial year to more than £20m, BBC Worldwide’s Global Channels division will this autumn launch an aggressive push for international audiences and advertising revenues in the US and across 160 other countries, the Financial Times has learned. According to senior executives, the BBC aims to create channels that can be “number one or number two” in their markets.
At the vanguard of the corporation’s commercial arm’s assault on America will be the formidable figure of Mr Paxman.
The presenter of BBC2’s Newsnight programme is renowned as the most dogged and fearsome of British interviewers, but the trademarks of trial by Paxman are as yet unknown to Americans.
Executives at BBC America hope that he will emulate the success of Simon Cowell, the British producer whose acerbic and dismissive critiques as a judge on American Idol have helped the talent show dominate the ratings in the US.
“Jeremy Paxman is the sort of person that Americans will just eat up,” Garth Ancier, president of BBC America, said in an interview.
That would be an interesting reversal of roles, for it is the 57-year-old Cambridge graduate, reported to earn £940,000 a year for presenting Newsnight and University Challenge, who normally does the devouring.
BBC Worldwide executives have produced pilots of a new 60-minute weekly programme, provisionally entitled Paxman.
The show would be a digest of the previous five days’ output from Newsnight although focused on non-British subjects and featuring what Mr Ancier called “custom-made” introductions and links from its eponymous star. BBC America hopes it will be broadcast for the first time this autumn.
British audiences are already familiar with Mr Paxman’s armoury: the contemptuous look, the exasperated gasp, the one question repeated 12-times.
It remains to be seen what Americans will make of a man who has not so much a catchphrase as a catch-grimace and can, with a snide quiver of his mobile eyebrows, reduce veteran politicians to jelly, or indeed jello.