Strictly Come Dancing v X Factor: Simon Cowell blasts BBC over scheduling war

Strictly will debut on Sunday 7 September in the same slot as its ITV rival

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The Independent Culture

Simon Cowell has accused the BBC of betraying its public service obligations by aggressively scheduling the return of Strictly Come Dancing in a head-to-head clash with The X Factor.

Cowell, who returns to the ITV talent show’s judging panel alongside Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, said the BBC had broken a “gentlemen’s agreement” by provoking a ratings battle between the two entertainment juggernauts, which would only “piss off viewers”.

The BBC was engulfed in a “dirty tricks” row after it emerged that the new Strictly series will debut on Sunday September 7 at 8pm-9.15pm clashing with its ITV rival’s 8pm-9.05pm slot.

The BBC said it was “important that Strictly launches in primetime” and accused ITV of slipping an hour-long Coronation Street into the schedules, ahead of The X Factor, which it had hidden during previous exchanges of its programme plans.

Strictly has pirouetted ahead of The X Factor, which returns this Saturday, in the ratings war during Cowell’s absence from the ITV show, fuelling a bitter rivalry between the hit series.


Cowell said: “The people they are pissing off are the viewers. They didn’t have to put it on at the same time as us but they did. And it means people have to make a choice whereas before I think it was more of a gentlemen’s agreement. That seems to have gone out of the window.

“Before if you asked them ‘are you doing this for ratings or are you being a public service broadcaster?’ they’d say the latter.

“But the reality is they did what they did to compete against us because they want to damage our show – which is fine, you’ve got to be a grown-up about it. But you have to admit that because it’s not in the viewers’ interests.

“It just shows the producers of their show for what they are. They don’t want people to watch our show and our job is to do the best possible job we can so people prefer X Factor to theirs.”

Strictly’s recent success may have bred arrogance, Cowell suggested. “When we have been arrogant in the past, when we were winning, you kind of got complacent. That’s when we lost out.

“When we’re on the back foot and we had to just be really creative on the show that’s when we did better. I kind of feel we’re in that position at the moment. We’re not going in to this arrogant. We’re not going in expecting to win, though we’d like to. But we are going all out to make a better show.”

The BBC defended its scheduling policy. A spokesman said: “We always try to avoid direct clashes but it's important that Strictly launches in primetime and with the extra episode of Coronation Street coming in, it's unfortunately left us with very little room to move on this occasion.”

The extra hour long soap episode, which doesn’t normally air on Sundays, wasn’t disclosed in earlier exchanges, BBC sources insisted, whilst Strictly was always in the schedule. The BBC believes it had no choice then but to go head-to-head against one of ITV’s juggernauts and executives chose to the 8pm slot to win the biggest possible audience.

Claudia Winkleman replaces Sir Bruce Forsyth as the permanent host of Strictly this year. The dance show’s celebrity line-up includes Judy Murray, Casualty actress Sunetra Sarker and television naturalist Steve Backshall.