Instead of countering populism with populism, the corporation's director of television, Alan Yentob, played up the BBC's public service obligations, saying that range and diversity would not be sacrificed in favour of audeince share.
Speaking about ITV's phenomenally successful Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, he said: "It's a good game, but it's not our game."
He added: "The BBC has other objectives. We want to bring good drama to peak time and ensure that factual programming and news is strong. To be popular is good but it isn't good enough. The BBC needs to thicken the plot, to cross the threshold of people's lives and engage with them on new levels and in new ways."
Peak-time factual output will include Tobacco Wars, in which the presenter Michael Buerk, an ex-smoker, embarks on a "personal journey through a century of smoking". Professor Robert Winston, who presented last year's acclaimed The Human Body, will feature in two science programmes, one on twins, the other on life for a newborn in the new millennium. David Attenborough narrates a Wildlife special on the tiger and BBC2 screens The Planets. There will also be a live broadcast of the solar eclipse.
The docu-soap, television's most prolific factual genre in recent years, will play a much smaller role. Maternity follows the process of childbirth from the first hospital appointment to delivery room. The Wedding is about one couple's nuptials.
Although the season will see the return of some familiar drama series (Final Witness, Roger Roger and The Ambassador), there are also several new projects. In Hope and Glory, Lenny Henry takes astraight role as a headteacher of a "named and shamed" comprehensive. The award winning maker of Holding On,Adrian Shergold, directs Eureka Street, a contemporary drama set in Belfast.
The expected highlight of the season is Tony Marchant's adaptation of Dickens' Great Expectations for BBC2.