ITV goes for festive Frost and Christmas Christie

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The Independent Online
ITV FIRED another shot in the battle over News At Ten when the head of the network's programming launched the Christmas and winter offerings, saying it was only possible because he had "liberated the schedules".

David Liddiment, director of programmes, said: "ITV is people's television and our job is to connect with the audience. Before anyone mentions dumbing down, our new 10 o'clock viewers are younger and more upmarket than before."

ITV was on target for its aim of 39 per cent peak-time share, he said, adding: "That's quite an achievement since we are only nine months into the most radical shake-up in our history. The 17 new dramas in our winter line-up shows how audiences are benefiting from the liberation of our schedules."

Two of the most popular television characters return in ITV's Christmas line-up. David Jason will be on the case with the first festive special of A Touch Of Frost. And David Suchet returns as Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot for the first time in five years in The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. Other popular stars appearing on ITV over Christmas and the millennium include Neil Morrissey, Frank Skinner and the teenage singing star Charlotte Church, who has her first acting role in Heartbeat.

Skinner appears alongside Samantha Janus and Julian Clary in this year's pantomime, Cinderella, scripted by the Men Behaving Badly writer Simon Nye and featuring Paul Merton and Ronnie Corbett as the ugly sisters. Pam Ferris, from Where The Heart Is, and the Pride And Prejudice star Colin Firth team up for a dramatisation of the classic Henry James chiller The Turn Of The Screw.

Fans of the TV phenomenon Who Wants To Be A Millionaire will be given a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show, hosted by Chris Tarrant, in Is That Your Final Answer?

ITV's Christmas film premiere is the comedy Jingle All The Way starring Arnold Schwarzenegger as a businessman trying desperately to buy the year's must-have toy for his son. The channel reflects the origins of Christmas in Bethlehem Year Zero, a series of programmes looking at the events surrounding the birth of Jesus as if it were a breaking news story today.

New comedy Dark Ages, written by BBC2's Red Dwarf creator Rob Grant, is set at the turn of the last millennium and stars comics Phill Jupitus and Alistair McGowan.

After Christmas John Thaw will star in the title role of Monsignor Renard, the story of a French Catholic priest who returns home to France in 1940 as the Germans invade. And former EastEnders star Ross Kemp will feature in Hero of the Hour as a security guard thrust into the limelight after a robbery.

t THE BBC chairman, Sir Christopher Bland, unveiled the results of the corporation's biggest public consultation exercise yesterday. It showed that 86 per cent of 5,378 individual and organisation responses supported new and enhanced services being proposed by the BBC and said it was important to maintain the current breadth of programming in the digital age.

A separate survey by BMRB, also released yesterday, showed support for the licence fee. However, while the BBC stressed this support, the figures also showed 15 per cent regard the licence fee as "fairly poor or very poor value for money". Some 53 per cent of the 1,304 adults surveyed said it was good value, a figure that rose to 69 per cent once people were reminded of the services it funds.