Potter's final TV act takes a knock

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Television viewers gave a lukewarm response to the much- heralded Karaoke, the first of controversial writer Dennis Potter's final two plays. Only 4.1 million people tuned in to BBC1 for the opening part on Sunday night, according to unofficial figures.

By comparison, the figures showed that ITV's popular drama, The Knock, was watched by 10.3 million people. "Once again an ITV drama has knocked the BBC for six," a source claimed.

Karaoke and its sequel Cold Lazarus, billed as major television events, are being broadcast on Sundays by the BBC and the following night by Channel 4 in accordance with the playwright's dying wishes. Potter finished the plays before dying of cancer last year.

The BBC defended its decision to show Potter's final offerings as evidence of its breadth of programming. Will Wyatt, the corporation's managing director, said: "I think it inconceivable that ITV would have shown Dennis Potter's Karaoke in the heart of the evening's viewing, or showed it at all. This may or may not be Potter's greatest work, but it is a work created by one of television's great artists in the most testing of circumstances."

A BBC drama spokeswoman added: "Karaoke has never been billed as a ratings blockbuster, that wasn't the reason for putting it on." The fact that the programme was being repeated on Channel 4 would affect viewing figures and video recordings also had to be taken into account, she said. The figures were broadly comparable with those for Potter's last television drama, Lipstick On Your Collar, on Channel 4.

Bearing many of Potter's hallmarks, Karaoke tells the story of a dying writer whose screenplay comes true as well as his desperate efforts to save a beautiful call girl.

Veteran media campaigner Mary Whitehouse led complaints about the use of four-letter words in the play.