Tom Rob Smith
University of Manchester
Television Program Creator
University of Manchester, The Hewett Academy
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Ben Stephenson is an English-born television executive. He was appointed in March 2015 as the Head of Television at J. J. Abrams' Bad Robot production company in the United States. Formerly he was controller of drama at the BBC from September 2008, and was succeeded by Polly Hill in May 2015.
Stephenson attended The Hewett School in Norwich before studying at Manchester University where he gained a first-class degree in drama.
In 1999 Stephenson worked at Granada as a script editor on the television series Heartbeat. He later worked in the same role for London's Burning and Blood Strangers. Stephenson then worked at Channel 4 for over two years, on shows such as No Angels, later moving to Shed Productions, and Tiger Aspect. While at Shed he served as producer on the military drama Bombshell, commissioned by ITV but never shown in the UK. It was screened in New Zealand in 2006. Stephenson joined the BBC in 2004 working as Head of Development for Independent Drama, later becoming Head of Development for Fiction. Stephenson then took the roles of Head of Drama Commissioning at the BBC.
His hit-rate during 2011 included a boost of £10m a year extra for BBC Two drama over the next three years, described by Stephenson as "a breath of fresh air". Several of 2011's dramas including The Crimson Petal and the White and single film United have performed well, though 8-part science fiction drama Outcasts, despite heavy promotion, drew disappointing ratings. Five out of the eight BAFTA drama awards for 2011 went to the BBC, including two for Sherlock (including best drama series).
In July 2009 Stephenson wrote a blog article for The Guardian newspaper in response to criticisms of the BBC's drama output in which he stated:
The comment caused controversy as it was considered to be a breach of the BBC's Royal Charter which obliges the organisation to be impartial in its output. Jeremy Hunt, shadow culture secretary at the time called for Stephenson to make "an immediate retraction and apology", stating "no journalist or editor should be following a political agenda, let alone someone as senior as a controller" with his concerns also echoed by Peter Whittle and Jonathan Isaby. Critics such as Stephen Glover also suggested that rather than being idiosyncratic, Stephenson "is part of the status quo, conforming to the Leftist beliefs that predominate in the BBC." Stephenson later denied that he had meant his comment to have a political meaning, likening it to the phrase "left-field".
Stephenson's partner is the author Tom Rob Smith.