ITV admits defeat in the battle over 'Cracker'

MATHEW HORSMAN

Big Ben will chime on time next Monday, as ITV yesterday admitted defeat in the battle to reschedule its flagship News at Ten.

Following criticism from the Independent Television Commission, first reported in the Independent on Monday, the extended opening episode of the hit series Cracker will now be broadcast on 22 October, a Sunday, and News at Ten will run as usual next week.

A repeat of the "cliff-hanger" episode from the last run of Cracker will be broadcast next Monday.

ITV insiders admitted that the decision was an "embarrassing" climbdown, but insisted there had been no attempt to set a precedent regarding the bulletin's time slot.

"This had nothing to do with the scheduling of the news," ITV said.

The ITC had sharply criticised the rescheduling, saying it breached ITV licence terms under which 30 minutes of weekday news must be broadcast during the peak viewing times of 6pm to 10:30pm.

In addition, ITC officials were incensed that no prior approval for the change had been sought. "Everybody thought everybody else had told the ITC," an ITV insider said.

ITV Network Centre considered a 15-minute cut in the opening episode, which includes a graphic rape scene, to accommodate the news. In the end, a shift to a Sunday premiere, followed by hour-long episodes on 23 October and 30 October, meant the programme could go out unchanged.

"When problems arose over the scheduling of Cracker, my first concern was to make sure that our viewers did not miss out," Marcus Platin, head of Network Centre, said.

"I have now rearranged the schedule to make a real 'event' out of the first story in the same way that we sometimes schedule one of our other key dramas, Prime Suspect."

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