The documentary maker Brian Lapping is to return to ITV for the first time since the 1980s, network bosses said yesterday. His prime-time series National Disaster will analyse some of Britain's worst tragedies including Aberfan and the King's Cross fire.
In recent times Mr Lapping's award-winning documentaries such as Death of Yugoslavia have appeared either on the BBC or Channel 4. His forensic, detailed approach has been considered too high-brow for ITV.
However, ITV is anxious to acquire some prestige programming after scrapping News at Ten and World in Action. The new commission also helps to redress a perceived crisis in current affairs - with the BBC's Panorama programme last week attracting one of its lowest audience shares yet at 10 per cent, and ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald receiving a mixed response from the critics.
"Giving Brian Lapping a grabby subject area like a national tragedy is inspired," a television executive said. "ITV will get a classy finish forwhat is essentially a populist ratings-grabber subject".
ITV will also make a new current affairs show for Trevor McDonald. The emphasis on factual programme coincides with a review by the Independent Television Commission of the scrapping of News at Ten.
Announcing the network's spring and summer schedules, David Liddiment, ITV's director of programmes, emphasised an increase in drama spending. "ITV drama maintains its strength this season with 10 new dramas," he said. "For 2000 ITV has commissioned over 20 per cent more 90-minute and two-hour drama specials compared to 1999."
Efforts to find a new television detective to follow in the footsteps of Wexford, Frost and Morse have resulted in a new series Rebus starring the Four Weddings and a Funeral actor John Hannah. The drama will be based on the novels of the crime author Ian Rankin.
A successor to the cult twentysomething series This Life is hoped for in the form of Metropolis which, says ITV, "follows the lives and loves of six university friends now struggling to find their adult selves".
Mr Liddiment unveiled another drama, Cor Blimey, which will tell the story of the love affair between Barbara Windsor and Sid James, and said that later in the year the network will broadcast adaptations of Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby and Thomas Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge.
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