BBC 1 chief to soothe nerves on 'Eldorado'

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN POWELL, the embattled controller of BBC 1, is flying to southern Spain today to soothe the jagged nerves of the cast and crew of the pounds 10m soap opera, Eldorado, writes Michael Leapman.

With its latest ratings down to below three million, and its producer Julia Smith sidelined indefinitely, suffering from 'complete exhaustion', Mr Powell will tell the worried actors that he, at least, is supporting the programme. 'I know Eldorado will succeed,' he said yesterday at the launch of the BBC 1 autumn schedule. 'It will be good. I am really confident that it is going to work. There is room for improvement in the quality of the acting but I'm absolutely happy with the way it is going.'

The way it is going, in audience terms, is remorselessly downwards. The overnight rating for last Friday's edition - not as reliable as the official rating that comes later - was a paltry 2.9 million compared with 16 million for some editions of ITV's Coronation Street. More than 10 million people watched the much-hyped first episode four weeks ago, but since then they have been losing interest at an accelerating rate.

Mr Powell said he was still confident that a regular audience of 10 million could be achieved in time. 'It will find a level and then start going up again. We'll get feedback from the audience, characters will come and go and at some point it will catch light.'

Commenting on the poor critical reaction, he said: 'I don't rate programmes from press reaction. If I did there are a dozen big shows that wouldn't be on the air now.' One of them, he said, was the popular Casualty - back for a fresh run in the autumn.

He argued that it was not fair to speculate on whether Julia Smith might return to the show. 'I want to let her refocus her mind and then talk to her.'

One reason for the poor audience figure last Friday was that the Olympics was on at the same time on BBC 2. Unlike Eldorado, the Olympics has been a ratings success. The opening ceremony was watched by 11 million people and 12 million saw Linford Christie win the 100 metres gold medal on Saturday.