'Better drama' pledge for BBC1: Yentob rejects accusation that he is indifferent to ratings

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The Independent Online
ALAN YENTOB, controller of BBC 1, yesterday announced his intention to strengthen the channel's popular drama output as the main plank in his strategy to improve its poor ratings.

BBC 1 currently has a 32 per cent share of the national television audience, compared with 41.4 per cent for ITV.

'I care about our audience share,' Mr Yentob told the Broadcasting Press Guild, responding to a suggestion that he was indifferent to ratings. 'The BBC has a serious commitment to engage the popular audience.'

Admitting that 'we don't have as many strong popular drama shows as we would like', he unveiled some of his plans to correct that.

Among them are a new series called Harry, in which Michael Elphick plays the journalist hero, and Pie in the Sky, a series about a chef who is also a detective - although Mr Yentob added that he thought that there were too many detective series on television at the moment.

There will also be a three-part adaptation of Ben Elton's 1989 novel Stark, probably starring the author himself. This is part of a package deal to bring Elton back to BBC 1: he will return in his comedy series The Man from Auntie and will also write a new situation comedy, his first since the Blackadder series.

Mr Yentob also announced a new strategy of more repeats of BBC 2 drama on BBC 1, and vice versa. He said he planned to be 'more inventive about where things go on the schedule'.

His decision to cancel Eldorado did not mean that he disapproved of all soap operas, he insisted; EastEnders is to be given an extra episode. 'I do not sneer at the serials,' he said, but there had been 'something unconvincing' about Eldorado. 'There will be something better,' he said

He was non-commital about the future of serious current affairs on BBC 1. He said he was discussing with Glenwyn Benson, the editor of Panorama, possible changes in the kinds of subject that the weekly programme tackled.

Mr Yentob disclosed that he was talking to Terry Wogan about a possible alternative to his poorly received Friday talk show. 'I asked him to think about what he really wanted to do,' he said. 'He's working on new ideas.'