Karl Warner is going places - and one of them is Edinburgh

Karl Warner Karl Warner could have been a finalist on the Great British Bakeoff if only he'd followed his childhood dreams

It's easy to get an inferiority complex while speaking to Karl Warner. It's not his hipster clothes - slim black jeans and a casual shirt. Or his manner - he's down to earth and chatty, with a wide, boyish grin. It's his achievements at the age of 33 that could make you question what you've been doing with your life.

Start Quote

If I only commissioned the things I really loved, that probably wouldn't be a good thing for the audience”

End Quote Karl Warner Commissioning editor, entertainment

One of the youngest commissioning editors in the business, his job can be summed up like this: find the next generation of Saturday-night entertainment formats for BBC One. No pressure, then. He's also just been appointed advisory chair of the Edinburgh tv festival, following in the footsteps of Big Talk chief executive Kenton Allen and George Entwistle.

In the first of many self-deprecating jokes, Warner says that his festival predecessors have an Oscar and the directorship of the BBC between them 'and then there's little old me. I've worked it out and it means I will be DG by 2014'.

'Silly telly'

His career trajectory, no exaggeration, is meteoric, although this language would embarrass him. The entertainment exec's first job in television was for Endemol, where he worked as a runner for a show called Bar Wars, set in Corfu. Fresh out of university, his mother was aghast. 'I had just done a politics degree and [my mother] wanted me to go and work at the Home Office. She'd send me applications, saying, "Give up that silly telly job you're doing."'

Horrible Histories cast Warner wishes he'd commissioned Horrible Histories

Undeterred by this sensible advice, Warner landed a development job with the BBC about eight years ago; he was part of the team which came up with Strictly Come Dancing. There was a stint with indie Monkey as the head of development, and fame as the producer who got George Galloway to pretend to be a cat on Big Brother.

Five years ago he came back to the BBC as commissioning editor, at the age of 28. 'I was the youngest [appointed], I think, which means inexperienced, lucky, inexperienced,' he laughs.

Warner may not have age on his side, but he has some impressive credits, namely Junior Doctors, John Bishop's Britain, Michael McIntyre's Comedy Road Show and The Undercover Princes. This last programme, about three real-life princes who come to the UK looking for love, is one that Warner is particularly proud of, as it was his first commission.

Get physical

Now that his focus is on Saturday nights, he's looking to emulate the success of Total Wipeout and Strictly Come Dancing. In development is a game show featuring puppets and celebrities, piloted as No Strings Attached. A co-production between BBC Entertainment and Henson Company (of Jim Henson fame), Warner is still trying to decide whether to give it the green light. He's also looking at finding a physical game show that could work for a family audience.

He plays down his power as a commissioner. 'It shouldn't be about me … If I only commissioned the things I really loved, that probably wouldn't be a good thing for the audience and for creativity.'

Who is ... Karl Warner?

•Once wanted to be a lawyer but then dismissed this career as 'quite dry'. Also toyed with the idea of going to work in the City. As a child he had ambitions to be a tennis coach and a baker, because he loves cakes.

•Enjoys triathlon and playing football. He is participating in a zombie run, 'where you go running through a forest and zombies chase you'. Also did a tough-guy run early this year, in which he was given electric shocks and had to run through fire.

•Was married in August to 'an amazing baker'.

•On his BBC One brief: 'It's a really tough task ... delivering something that's familiar is no bad thing - you see that in the trend of what people watch over the years - but trying to innovate and find new ways into those familiar subjects is tough.'

So what does this self-confessed tv and film junkie love? He watches Strictly and X Factor; calls Match of the Day 'a must' (he's a huge Arsenal fan); and is a fan of Harry Hill and Horrible Histories, which he wishes he had commissioned. He also mentions The Wire as the show that inspired him to use quotes in the opening sequences of Young, Dumb and Living Off Mum.

He's often inspired while riding his bike to work or in the shower, but he's quick to give the credit to others. 'The priority for me and my job is to enable and support people out there to have the best ideas,' he says charitably.

Pitch your idea

He is currently asking producers to suggest their single best idea for any slot on the BBC. Early next year, Warner will announce five pilots as a result of this process. 'This is a genuine opportunity and we are making a proper commitment to it.'

He gets pitched ideas constantly, he explains, so this process only formalises it a little. 'At my own wedding somebody started to talk to me about an idea. At my wedding!' He adds, 'It didn't seem fair while we were doing our vows.'

The entertainment executive laughs at his joke, charming his way to the end of the interview. Perhaps it's not that much of a stretch to assume he could be DG after all.


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