David Jason takes leading role on rival channels in fight for Christmas viewers

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The Independent Online

Since the Seventies, when Morecambe and Wise earned the BBC audiences of more than 20 million, television bosses have looked for the double act that can corner the Christmas ratings. This year, both the corporation and ITV appear to have settled on David Jason and John Sullivan.

While the centrepiece of the BBC's schedule is a special episode of Only Fools and Horses, starring Jason and written by Sullivan, ITV's trump card is a Dickens spin-off, Micawber, the work of the same pair.

The BBC gave full details yesterday of its Christmas season, which has cost £51m. These are heady days for BBC1 in particular and its elfin controller, Lorraine Heggessey. The channel is winning the ratings battle, and scoring with new sitcoms and factual programmes, even if there is still a reliance on detective and medical dramas. And Mark Thompson, the director of television, pointed out at yesterday's launch that the station was beating ITV while still spending less on drama.

Indeed ITV, which – aside from the occasional Coronation Street special – usually loses the Christmas Day battle to the BBC, seems to have given up early this year. While the BBC has a drama adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World with Bob Hoskins and James Fox, two visits to EastEnders, the terrestrial premiere of Toy Story, and Only Fools and Horses, ITV is sticking to a tried-and-trusted light entertainment formula. This features a celebrity version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, specials of You've Been Framed and Stars In Their Eyes and visits to Coronation Street and Emmerdale. The Coronation Street scriptwriters, however, have been overdosing for Christmas bonuses with a plot promising "kidnapping, a birth and sexual intrigue".

Outside of the heavyweight ratings battles, one of the more interesting offerings includes ITV's production of Othello on 23 December, with the setting updated to the world of the Metropolitan Police. The main arts programme is a rare interview with J K Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, on BBC's Omnibus on 28 December.

Finally, the first interactive edition of Top Of The Pops, with a chance to take part in karaoke on Christmas Day, could prove a surprise hit.

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