TV firms warned for 'inept and glib' shows

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THE Independent Television Commission handed severe warnings on programme quality yesterday to two of the companies that won the controversial 'auction' of TV franchises.

The breakfast broadcaster GMTV was told that it faces a fine of up to pounds 2m unless its programmes improve by September. Carlton, the London weekday franchise-holder, is accused of failing to supply more and better quality programmes to the network in its first operating year.

The ITC made the criticisms in its review of the performance of the commercial stations in 1993. In an analysis of programmes that were below standard, the review singled out the Carlton documentary series Hollywood Women as 'glib and superficial'.

In other Carlton shows, the commission raised concerns on taste and decency over the comedian Dave Allen and had reservations about the hypnotist Paul McKenna making fun of members of the public. But there was praise for the drama series Frank Stubbs Promotes, the Good Sex Guide and, in children's output, the Old Bear Stories, which last night won a Royal Television Society award.

The review criticised the new network centre, set up last year to commission ITV programmes. 'The overall feel of the network schedule was cautious and predictable. There was little evidence of adventure or the surprise of one- off events.' Sir George Russell, chairman of the ITC, said: 'We are looking for more adventure and courage in 1994.'

That is an important signal that the ITC, even under the new 'light touch' regulation regime, sees it as its duty to prevent standards slipping as a result of financial pressures. GMTV, with a bid of pounds 34.6m for its franchise, and Carlton, with pounds 43m, were regarded as high bidders.

The broadcasters reacted coolly. Christopher Stoddart, managing director of GMTV, said that although the company had clearly lagged in fulfilling its commitments for the first few months after it took over the franchise from TV-am, it was now on the right track. He hoped the ITC's talk of a fine was 'largely academic'.

Paul Jackson, managing director of Carlton, said the company would try to strengthen programme areas highlighted in the review. Despite the ITC criticism, Carlton's share price yesterday rose 10p to 911p, following a big increase in the company's profits.

Mr Jackson said Hollywood Wives had been popular with viewers and Carlton was planning a sequel. He added: 'I'm a little surprised to see the ITC acting as TV reviewers.' Sir George responded: 'If we're going to judge quality, it's hard not to come clean and say what quality we're looking for.'

Bruce Gyngell, chairman of TV- am, which was outbid by GMTV, said in Sydney: 'I was right, but it is of small consolation to the 392 people who lost their jobs. We bid what we knew it was worth.'

The commission found that GMTV's first year on the air 'did not match to a significant degree the service promised in the licence application'. It particularly criticised current affairs coverage, with little serious comment or analysis and 'ineptly handled' interviews. Average weekly news and current affairs coverage fell more than an hour short of the minimum required by the licence.

Children's and family programming was also inadequate, 'with heavy reliance on acquired animation and indifferent production standards'. A daily news programme for children, promised in the application, never appeared.

The commission agreed this month to relax the more rigid requirements for news and current affairs in GMTV's licence.

The ITC is not threatening Carlton with sanctions, although it says it wants to see 'a significant improvement in 1994 and beyond'. The criticism is directed chiefly at its programmes for the network 'which were, with some exceptions, not distinctive or of noticeable high quality'.

Analysis, page 3

Leading article, page 17