ITV executives want to move their peak-time news bulletin in an attempt to encourage viewers to watch an expensive new series on the history of the English language to be screened immediately after its forthcoming blockbuster drama Dr Zhivago.
The broadcaster requires a specific dispensation from the Independent Television Commission to allow Lord Bragg's series, The Adventure of English 500AD to 2000AD, to inherit the anticipated high audience that will be carried over from the drama.
Under broadcasting rules, ITV, has a licence commitment to screen a half-hour news programme during the peak viewing period of 6pm to 10.30pm
In an unprecedented move, it has already asked the BBC to reschedule its planned autumn blockbuster Daniel Deronda, based the novel by George Eliot, so that it does not clash with Dr Zhivago.
Jana Bennett, the BBC's director of television, said yesterday she had made a compromise offer to the independent channel. Both sides are eager to broadcast on Sunday evenings in November, and sources indicate that Ms Bennett suggested that Daniel Deronda could be brought forward and Dr Zhivago broadcast later than anticipated. But such an arrangement might still leave an overlap.
Andrew Davies, the award-winning writer who adapted both stories for the rival channels, said he was astonished that the programmes would clash. "I am confused, amazed and amused. Both sides knew it was coming up and both said it would be so dreadful if there was a clash – and somehow they have got one," he said.
Davies confessed that he believed Dr Zhivago would win the battle if the two went head-to-head. He said: "I had a conversation with Tom Hooper, who directed Daniel Deronda, who's a bit anxious about them clashing.
"Dr Zhivago is such a grand name. People over 50 are going to be very excited to see how it measures up to the old film with Julie Christie – and younger people are going to be very keen to see Kiera Knightley [in the Christie role] lose her virginity. Daniel Deronda is a great novel to those who know it, but not many people know it."
Andrew Davies, who is one of Lord Bragg's subjects in the new series of the South Bank Show, admitted that another of his forthcoming dramas for the BBC, Tipping the Velvet, about lesbian lovers, was "filthy" in the second episode and included a scene that featured a large leather vibrator.