McDonald gets new documentary

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The Independent Online
ITV ANNOUNCED a new job yesterday for the newsreader Trevor McDonald. Hot on the heels of its campaign to abolish News at Ten, the network said that it has awarded the biggest contract yet for a current affairs programme, and that Mr McDonald will be the main presenter.

The new programme, to be based on the vintage American series 60 Minutes, will be an hour long, and will be made by Manchester-based Granada Television and ITN. Mr McDonald's role will be in the American tradition, a charismatic central figure steering the viewer through in-depth reports and breaking stories.

A second presenter is likely, and the name of Channel 5's Kirsty Young is mentioned. However, contracts are far from settled, and ITV was not prepared to comment on the subject.

The deal, said industry insiders, smacks of horse- trading. ITN and Mr McDonald had been required to make a huge sacrifice by ITV in giving up News at Ten - but the 60 Minutes deal delivers the company a compensating high-prestige project.

The contract and Mr McDonald's participation is dependent on the Independent Television Commission (ITC) approving the News at Ten decision. However Steve Anderson, ITV's controller of current affairs, said yesterday he was "confident of proposals put forward to the ITC proceeding."

The 60 Minutes contract is worth up to pounds 8 million a year, and the battle to secure it was long and bitter. Granada and ITN beat strong rival bids from other big players including Carlton, Twenty-Twenty Television, United Productions/ Barraclough Carey and Yorkshire Television.

Mr McDonald, as presenter, had been competing in a "beauty contest" with Kirsty Young and, until he recently signed a new BBC contract, Jeremy Paxman. He was also Carlton's first choice as anchorman.

ITV's chief executive, Richard Eyre, said yesterday that Granada had won because "it combined a proven track record in delivering high quality ITV current affairs with a new and exciting way of producing the biggest factual show on television".

Those words will not sound sweet to losing bidder Carlton, which has had its factual programming discredited by controversy over a documentary, The Connection, which included fake scenes of drug smugglers, and another that faked an exclusive interview with Fidel Castro. Mr Anderson, however, said Carlton had submitted a strong bid and had simply been beaten by a better one. In the final moments of the contest, a wrangle had been evident over whether the links between ITV bosses and Granada were too close for comfort. David Liddiment, the director of programmes at ITV, is a former Granada man, while ITV's Steve Anderson is the brother of Jeff Anderson, who is the series producer on the Granada bid.

The ITC, meantime, yesterday asked television viewers to submit their views on the abolition of News at Ten, and ITV's proposals for a new evening television schedule.

The television regulator said the public consultation would be vital to its decision, expected in late November, on whether to allow ITV to proceed with its controversial plan.

Viewers are to be asked how much they care about whether films and drama are, as at present, interrupted by News at Ten and the regional news that follows it. The relative position of the BBC is also a factor. Viewers will be asked if they mind that, under ITV's proposal, the only full-length news bulletin on the five terrestrial channels between 8pm and 11pm would be on the BBC.

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