The great untold story of television is just how often a programme idea gets rejected by one channel only for the show to turn up as a big hit on another. This happened to two of the most successful shows currently on British television, both either rejected by rival channels or lost due to indifference.
The first is ITV's new Saturday night show, Dancing on Ice, which averaged a remarkable nine million viewers in its first two outings. The remarkable thing about the show is not the ratings, but how close the format is to the BBC's Strictly Come Dancing. As I've written before in this column, there are only so many good ideas in television, so most new programmes have roots in an e arlier format, but I have never seen anything quite so blatant as Dancing on Ice.
Not to put too fine a point on it, it's a compete rip-off of Strictly Come Dancing, so similar that, if I was the BBC, I'd ask ITV for a format fee. Apart from the presenting teams, the only discernible difference between the two shows is that one is set in a ballroom and the other an ice-rink. But there is one reason why the BBC won't make a fuss about the show, and that is that they had the chance to get it for themselves and missed it.
The independent producer RDF first took the idea of an ice-dance competition starring Britain's best-ever ice dance pair, Torville and Dean, to the BBC's former entertainment commissioner Jane Lush early last year. Lush, who recently left the BBC to set up her own production company, was the person who commissioned Strictly Come Dancing, and loved the idea of doing the show again on ice. Unfortunately others inside the BBC didn't agree and the idea met fierce opposition until, eventually, the BBC One controller at the time, Lorraine Heggessey, said "yes", only to find that it was too late.
Unbeknown to either RDF or the BBC, Torville and Dean had mysteriously been contracted by Granada Productions. The former ITV entertainment commissioner Claudia Rosencrantz loved the idea when it was pitched to her by Granada, grabbed the show immediately and a much-needed ITV hit was born. Given that Claudia also commissioned ITV's two other big entertainment hits - The X Factor and I'm a Celebrity ... Get Me Out of Here! - she must have been surprised when ITV's new broadcast chief, Simon Shaps, allowed her to leave.
The second hit show which was rejected by both ITV and BBC One is the big daytime success on Channel 4, Deal or No Deal. This programme, which stars Noel Edmonds, is now so successful that the channel is reportedly considering moving it to primetime which, in itself, will be embarrassing for both BBC One and ITV as they both turned it down.
The show was originally developed by Endemol in Holland and turned up at the BBC by a strange route. Bruce Forsyth's daughter saw the show in Australia and gave her father a tape. Bruce gave it to Lush, who was also enthusiastic. She in turn passed it on inside the BBC only for the message to come back that the BBC thought the show involved gambling and therefore wasn't suitable for the BBC schedules.
Next, Endemol offered it to ITV, who decided that it would not work in their failing daytime schedule, so then it was Channel 4's turn. Their director of television, Kevin Lygo, saw the tape and snapped up the show. Now it is the channel's most successful daytime programme and has even boosted the ratings for Countdown, which plays in the schedule immediately before it.
These sorts of stories are usually kept quiet by channel controllers or their commissioning staff on the understanding that it happens to everyone, and next time could be their time.
It doesn't only happen in light entertainment. Both ITV and the BBC rejected the script of Four Weddings and a Funeral, ITV on the grounds that "four good jokes don't make a movie" and the BBC because there were too many "fuck"s in the first minute. It went on to be a massive success for Channel 4.
Mark's turn to face the music
I did warn my old mate Mark Damazer, when he took over as controller of BBC Radio 4 just over a year ago, to be very careful, as even the smallest of changes on that network can bring the world down on the boss's head.
Up until last week, all was fine. Mark had made a few changes but none had offended that most eccentric of audiences, the Radio 4 fanatics. Then he made what to him must have been the most innocuous of decisions when he decided to cancel the early morning, five-minute-long, UK medley theme and replace it with a news bulletin.
Suddenly all hell broke loose. A bunch of rent-a-gob MPs put down early day motions protesting against the move and a bunch of discontented Radio 4 listeners threatened to march on Broadcasting House. The last time they did that, the BBC ran scared and scrapped plans to move Radio 4 away from long wave.
I bumped into the embattled Damazer last week and suggested to him that maybe he should change his mind. While I am sure his decision is the right one, is it really worth the bother? After all, the medley is played at 5.30am and surely there can't be that many people listening at that time of day? One thing is certain, though: there are enough to make a fuss.Reuse content