Raymond Snoddy on Broadcasting

'News at Ten' is back but will its old viewers be there to watch?
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There is a back-to-the-future feel about the new ITV schedule, which launches at the weekend. The top-notch revamped team at ITV, led by executive chairman Michael Grade, have put their talented heads together and come up with some amazing discoveries. The most dramatic insight is that viewer expectations and watching patterns are different on Saturdays and Sundays. People, ITV has decided, like comedy and entertainment at the weekend. Indeed they do.

In future, Friday nights will be devoted to comedy, drama and feature films "to get the weekend started" and the cunning plan is to try to make the whole weekend at ITV1 "something to look forward to". It's an honest aspiration.

Yet it's as if ITV has had to re-learn its own past. The difference between weekdays and the weekend was a cultural phenomenon that was well understood when LWT was a separate company, responsible for that part of the week.

At the same time, ITV claims that it is merely responding to viewer feedback with the decision to move Coronation Street and Emmerdale from Sunday nights into the main weekday schedule. The idea is that the same number of episodes of the soaps should be compressed into fewer evenings.

It's hardly surprising that viewers who do not have personal video recorders do not want to spend too many evenings of their lives catching up with their favourite soaps, so this is a very sensible move, except that it has taken ITV a rather long time to respond to viewer sensitivities.

The biggest retrograde move of all, of course, is the return, a week from today, of Sir Trevor McDonald and News at Ten for four days a week or as ITV endearingly puts it "every weekday from Monday to Thursday".

As for the news on Friday, this will be known as The Late News and will go out at 11pm, with even more flexibility at the weekend.

Michael Grade regards ceding the 10pm news slot to the BBC as a grievous error and he is probably right. Whether the past can be reclaimed is another matter, however. The millions who have spurned the BBC1's news at 10pm may continue to use their remote controls to find something else when the bongs return.

All in all, it looks as if elementary errors are at last being put right in the ITV schedule. Better late then never.

The real test will not come from a quick spring-clean of the schedule, but from the quality of the programmes.

Again, a few simple truisms are floating to the surface more so in the US than in Britain.

The multiplication of different platforms to reach the audience is all very well and a necessary process in the digital age but the quality of the programmes is the only thing that really matters. Without that, you have nothing.

Some of the new ITV 60-minute dramas such as The Palace life in a fictional Buckingham Palace sound promising. And the innovative dual-programme initiative from the Kudos production stable, a Cornwall-based soap called Echo Beach and a comedy called Moving Wallpaper (which is a spoof on the making of Echo Beach) is receiving the full marketing treatment.

The new schedule had better work. There will not be too many other opportunities to correct simple mistakes. ITV executives will be all too aware of this month's forecast from Group M. It predicted that by next year, the UK could become the first economy in the world to spend more on internet advertising than on television ads.

If anything was needed to concentrate minds...

Enough with the Panorama puffery

After a year of crisis at the BBC, one small, but real, issue of trust has not been addressed adequately until now, that is.

Week after week, editions of Panorama were promoted not between the programmes but in the news itself.

It is a dangerous thing to do to break down the barriers between marketing and legitimate news values. The process has usually been started on Mondays with Breakfast and then moved effortlessly to the One O'Clock News and then on to the Six, with Panorama items often deployed as lead story on the bulletins.

Sometimes, the puffery masquerading as news has started even earlier.

The official BBC line has always been that the stories are there on merit, that normal news judgements always apply and anyway, why shouldn't the BBC make use of its expensively produced current affairs journalism?

Fair enough. Of course Panorama produces stories of importance. Something would be badly wrong if it didn't.

Yet, much to the irritation of many viewers, no less than two-thirds of the editions of the weekly programme made their way into the news last year. It defies belief that all of them were there on merit.

Now Helen Boaden, the BBC's head of news, has conceded that carrying Panorama stories on the news did become too much of a routine last year.

All she has to do now is make sure that news bulletin editors really do know the difference between genuine news stories the sort that other news organisations might follow up and programme puffery.

It is a question of trust.

Please sir, may we have more modern drama?

It was a tale of three Dickens over Christmas, with the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 all wallowing in Victorian grit and nostalgia. For pure dramatic intensity, the 10 points should probably go to the BBC's Oliver Twist, right, but The Old Curiosity Shop from ITV and A Christmas Carol from Channel 4 were not far behind.

Overall in the historic literary stakes, the BBC continues to forge ahead. Cranford was exceptional and gave long-overdue television attention to the undervalued Victorian novelist Elizabeth Gaskell.

And Jane Austen can never be far from our thoughts as yet another Sense and Sensibility plays on our screens complete, this time, with a dash of Andrew Davies erotica.

Such productions are true treasures of British television and the sneers about costume drama and bonnet-counts are misplaced. There is, however, a danger that the easy audience-pleasers, the familiar stories beautifully told, will crowd out more contemporary fiction.

While all the best stories portray eternal moral dilemmas and values, whatever the costumes, there is no shortage of contemporary conflict to dramatise now.

There is no point in wittering on about Play for Today. The world of television has changed too much for that.

But it should not be beyond the imaginings of television executives to come up with some framework to promote the production of more contemporary drama alongside the best from the past.

Meanwhile, Mistresses tomorrow night might be worth a look even though the writing is unlikely to be up to the standard of Dickens, Austen or even Gaskell.

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