ITV woos up-market viewers with pounds 186m package: Winter schedule includes record pounds 75m of drama. David Lister reports

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The Independent Online
THE AGGRESSIVE art of the television scheduler was demonstrated yesterday as the ITV network announced a range of programmes for the winter designed to take up-market viewers away from the BBC, which has been accused of going down market.

Launching the pounds 186m package, with a new series of documentaries and a record pounds 75m spent on drama, Marcus Plantin, director of the ITV network, said: 'This does not look like wet T-shirt television to me.'

While the up-market definition is open to question - some of the new documentaries are on soft subjects such as the life of a super model, and a number of the dramas are crime or police thrillers - Mr Plantin made it clear that he was scheduling to continue his autumn success in winning viewers from Channel 4 and the BBC, boasting particularly of how putting films and The Bill on Saturday night had, in his words, 'decimated' the BBC's new drama series, Harry.

Among the winter highlights are new dramas including Under the Hammer, by John Mortimer, set in an art auction house and starring Richard Wilson and Sir John Gielgud; dramas with Joanna Lumley, Leslie Grantham, Sarah Miles and Michael Kitchen; the final series of Minder; and more of Peak Practice, The Bill and Doctor Finlay. There will also be a fly on the wall look at Scotland Yard.

Among the winter movie premieres are Hollywood blockbusters Sleeping with the Enemy, Presumed Innocent and Honey I Shrunk the Kids.

On Children's ITV, Rainbow returns following a viewers' campaign; and there is a cartoon of Budgie the Little Helicopter by the Duchess of York.

Mr Plantin refused to give exact times for his new schedules, but did provide some indications of how he would try to win the BBC's audience. On Thursdays he will run The Bill, Minder and the fly on the wall series on Scotland Yard; on Saturdays a new Ruth Rendell series with repeats of Morse; and on Sundays a family film at 6.30pm followed by a drama.

There would, he said, be drama on at 9pm seven nights a week. 'We're not slavishly moving the channel up market,' he said, 'It's a touch on the tiller here and there. Cracker, with Robbie Coltrane, on Monday nights got an 11-million audience. That particular type of drama appeals more to the young and up-market. Its success demonstrates a major gear shift for ITV. We will be including ideas and forms that stretch the imagination,' he said.

Figures released by ITV yesterday show that its share of ABC1 men, the group most favoured by advertisers, viewing between 9pm and 10pm grew from 34.1 per cent to 36.9 per cent between April and September.

The overall audience share from January to September was: ITV 40 per cent; BBC 1 32 per cent; BBC 2 11 per cent; Channel 4 11 per cent; and satellite 6 per cent.

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