A DRAMATISATION of the plight of Western hostages in the Middle East heads ITV's autumn line-up of programmes announced in London yesterday.
The pounds 165m schedule, boasting new drama, first-run Hollywood films, a 'people-show' called Gladiators and Crime File, a new reality reconstruction series, is the final chance for the ITV network to maintain its current ratings lead over the BBC before the new ITV system begins in January.
Hostages, to be shown at the end of September, is a drama-documentary about the kidnapping, imprisonment and release of five Western hostages and focuses on the friendship of Brian Keenan and John McCarthy. The pounds 2m production features Colin Firth as John McCarthy and Natasha Richardson as Jill Morrell.
Earlier this year John McCarthy said he felt 'exploited' and tried to get the programme stopped. He said: 'I am distressed that anyone would try to portray my story when I haven't yet felt able to tell it myself.'
Yesterday Steve Morrison, director of programmes at Granada, defended the decision and said that friends and relatives of the hostages, including Jill Morrell before John McCarthy's release, had co-operated with the production.
'Some of the hostages were worried about their story being told, but when they see this film we believe they will agree, that not only should the story be told, but that it has been told very well.' Mr Morrison said he did not know if Mr McCarthy would be invited to view the film in advance.
Granada is also responsible for Prime Suspect II, while Lynda La Plante, the writer of the original Bafta-winning thriller, has created a new one called Framed starring Timothy Dalton.
David Jason returns as Pop Larkin in another series of The Darling Buds of May but also plays a tough detective in a new four-part series A Touch of Frost.
Crime File blends drama and reality in reconstructing criminal cases, Michael Winner explores more police investigation techniques in True Crimes and a two-hour film Fool's Gold dramatises the story of the pounds 26m Brink's Mat Heathrow robbery.
Neighbourhood Watch is a new game show fronted by Dame Edna Everage while Gladiators is described as 'a cross between It's A Knockout and The Royal Tournament'.
Major Hollywood films to be shown include Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Die Hard, Working Girl and a season of Arnold Schwarzenegger films including Conan The Barbarian and Predator which will be shown after 10pm.
Losing out in the bidding war with BBC and BSkyB for Premier League football has meant that ITV now has more money available for top films, according to LWT's Director of Programmes Marcus Plantin.
From January, major ITV players such as Thames and TVS lose their franchises and companies such as Carlton and Meridan begin broadcasting. But ITV is hoping for continuity and yesterday announced a new series of the Ruth Rendell Mysteries, previously made by the TVS. Now it will be made by an independent company, Blue Heaven Productions.Reuse content