BBC bows to critics and places art at heart of Sunday

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The Independent Online
THE ARTS coverage of BBC 2 is to be expanded and such programmes will be scheduled at prime time on Sunday evenings, the corporation said yesterday.

Several new titles under the banner ArtZone, will start at 7.30pm and run to 9pm, led by a revamped version of the critics' show Late Review, presented by Mark Lawson.

The review programme will keep the team of contributors which has found a loyal following among the chattering classes, and includes the feminist Germaine Greer, the poet Tom Paulin and critics Tony Parsons and Allison Pearson. But there will also be new members from the world of the arts - the American author Gore Vidal and the poet laureate Andrew Motion both want to take part.

Also in the 7.30pm slot will be occasional discussions between two leading names. One proposal is for Patrick Marber, who wrote the hit-play Closer, to feature with the playwright David Mamet.

Other programmes in production for ArtZone, which starts in March, include a documentary about the poet W H Auden, another about Picasso and a four-part series on the art of the life of Christ, written and presented by the director of the National Gallery, Neil MacGregor.

The BBC had been criticised for reducing its arts coverage, pushing the programmes to the late-night edges of the schedules and for declining standards. Attacks have come from corners ranging from the Campaign for Quality Television, to the broadcaster Lord Bragg, who recently lamented the lack of television programmes about ideas.

The BBC also yesterday unveiled its plans to screen an adaptation of Mervyn Peake's work Gormenghast, starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, with Christopher Lee, Ian Richardson, Zoe Wanamaker, and Stephen Fry.

The BBC 2 controller, Jane Root, yesterday described the drama "one of the most ambitious projects ever", with a celebrity supporting cast, including Warren Mitchell, Spike Milligan, Eric Sykes and Martin Clunes.