Greg Dyke On Broadcasting
The X Factor? Strictly Come Dancing? It's been done before
Monday 28 November 2005
For the past two months Saturday night viewing has been just like it used to be in the old days when ITV and BBC One battled it out for viewers and, as a result, between them got a massive share of the available audience. In those days BBC Two and Channel Four didn't even try to compete.
Ever since The X Factor started going head to head with Strictly Come Dancing back in early October the size of the Saturday night audiences on the two main channels has brought back memories of Blind Date versus the Generation Game or Beadle's About competing with the Late Late Breakfast Show.
It is a long time since the two main channels were so successful going head to head with entertainment shows on Saturday nights. There were even those of little faith who believed that traditional entertainment aimed at the whole family no longer had a place in the early Saturday evening schedules (they were the same people who believed the return of Dr Who would be a great mistake). What both shows demonstrate is that if the main channels commission the right programmes the joint audiences early on a Saturday evening can still be enormous.
So farThe X Factor is just ahead with an average of 8.3 million viewers compared with 8.1 million for Strictly Come Dancing but between them they are getting close to 80% of the total audience watching television early on a Saturday evenings. These are remarkable figures in the multi-channel world where, unlike the old days, there are literally dozens of other channels and programmes to choose from.
The X Factor is also winning the demographic battle achieving an average share of 54% of the 16-34 viewers (the ones advertisers are so keen to get) while Strictly Come Dancing is getting 54% of the 55 plus audience.
But comparisons with yesteryear don't end with the sizes of the audiences the two shows are attracting. Both programmes are based on remarkably old fashioned formats. The X Factor is just a new way of doing a television talent show in the Opportunity Knocks tradition, in fact Hughie Greene must be turning in his grave if he's watching it.
And Strictly Come Dancing is simply the old Come Dancing spruced up for a new era. Here the genius was the decision to get Bruce Forsyth to present it.
Brucie is back in the big time on BBC One, with an attractive young blonde on his arm just like it used to be when he compered the Generation Game.
Given that just a couple of years ago Brucie's career was all over, his is a classic example of how real talent can re-emerge, no matter how old the artist is. Bruce is living proof that there is life after death. One appearance on Have I Got News For You was enough to remind a new generation of producers what a great talent he is. I suspect that Cilla Black will follow in his footsteps sometime soon.
I was still running the BBC when Strictly Come Dancing was first commissioned and I was asked for my views on the idea. I was far from certain and remember telling the commissioner Jane Lush that it would either be a great hit or a total disaster (there's nothing like hedging your bets when you're not sure). Of course it has turned out to be the former and versions of the show are now hits all around the world.
Both shows of course have "modernised" the classic formats. Both run across a series of weeks knocking out a single contestant each week - for that both can thank the inventors of Big Brother for the idea. And both shows are based on viewers' phoning in and spending large sums on the phone calls. In the BBC's case the telephone income goes to Children in Need while on the other side I suspect it goes into the coffers of the producer, Freeemantle Media and ITV itself. After all it is commercial television.
One big difference between The X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing and the old Saturday night fare is that both the current programmes return for a second slot later in the evening when the results of the competition are announced in dramatic style. For both channels this is an enormous bonus in terms of ratings. Last week ITV's results programme just beat the BBC's with 8.1million viewers compared with 7.9 million.
As a result of the success of the current Saturday nights I predict that any time now someone will invent a new version of Jim'll Fix It which, of course, was itself just a re-working of the old radio show Ask Pickles. Or maybe it's time for a new Beadle's About which was simply the re-versioning of Candid Camera. And is it too early for the next incarnation of Blind Date or This is Your Life?
What the story of the current Saturday nights tells you is that there are only so many good entertainment ideas and in the end they all re-emerge in one form or another. You can't keep a successful format idea down for long.
The day George was anointed Best
I'm one of the many Manchester United fans of my generation who idolised George Best. He was the best footballer I ever saw. I was still in awe of him back in the early Eighties when I was running the programme department at TV-am and we employed George for a few months. I was amazed to find myself as George Best's boss. In fact one of the most memorable moments of my whole time at TV-am came when we had George Best, Jimmy Greaves and Pele on the sofa together one morning talking about football. It turned out to be a famous day because that was the day Pele pointed to Best and said he was the best ever.
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