Surprise, surprise: drama meets light entertainment

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The Independent Online
GRANADA Television and London Weekend Television are two very different but established ITV companies, with distinctive corporate and programme-making cultures and supporters in influential places.

Granada is the largest supplier of ITV programmes: it makes 25 per cent of new nationally networked programmes, headed by the thrice-weekly Coronation Street, which reigns supreme as Britain's most popular programme.

In 1991 Granada bid a modest pounds 9m to retain the franchise that it has held since ITV's dawn in 1956. It has successfully adapted to the new post-auction commercial era (where programmes must get ratings to survive in peak time) by taking World in Action downmarket, and by producing popular quality drama hits such as Prime Suspect and Cracker.

It has also persevered at the challenging business of making drama documentaries. All these have greatly contributed to ITV's apparent success this year - the first under new franchise conditions - in holding on to its 42 per cent share of audiences. Granada has been nominated for 12 British Academy (Bafta) awards this year, eight more than any other ITV company.

Despite tough conditions, Granada's programme sales were worth pounds 79m last year, up 15 per cent on the previous year.

LWT, the UK's sole weekend contractor, supplies an estimated 13-15 per cent of networked programmes. It bid just pounds 7.5m to hold on to its franchise.

With stars such as Cilla Black and Jeremy Beadle under contract, it concentrates on light entertainment. During the 1980s it fostered people shows such as Blind Date, Surprise Surprise and Beadle's About, although these formats have now peaked in popularity. But it has also led ITV's hunt for younger and more upmarket viewers with dramas such as London's Burning.

Melvyn Bragg, an LWT director, also pioneered popular television arts formats with The South Bank Show.

Gerry Robinson, Granada's chief executive, said yesterday that LWT, which employs 650 people, a third of the staff it had five years ago, was too small to grasp the new opportunities provided by the relaxed takeover rules.

Together the two franchises would create a formidable programme-making bloc able to sustain substantial production for ITV in the future.

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