Television Watchdog Report: Old favourites fail to escape critical barrage: Brickbats aimed at a clutch of familiar faces as well as broadcasting's new arrivals

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The Independent Online
AS WELL AS its searing criticism of Carlton's programmes for the network, the ITC's annual review lambasted some old ITV favourites.

Central's Spitting Image was judged to have 'declined in its ninth year', while Dame Edna's Neighbourhood Watch, from London Weekend, 'relied too often on humour of questionable taste'. Even Melvyn Bragg, the network's standard-bearer for the arts, is charged that one or two editions of his South Bank Show were 'more superficial than might be expected'.

In popular drama, the network as a whole suffered from 'a preponderance of crime-based stories' and a shortage of new single plays and films. There was also criticism of the late scheduling of some serious programmes.

On the plus side, fears that the new ITV franchise system would imperil the coverage of news and current affairs have proved largely unfounded.

'ITV's current affairs performance was better than some of its eager critics asserted and there was no significant narrowing of the agenda,' the ITC said. 'Nevertheless, the pressure to deliver ratings was never very far away and occasionally showed in a loss of nerve.'

It praised Granada's World in Action and Central's The Cook Report for maintaining high standards and high ratings in peak time, although it was less enthusiastic about Central's The Big Story. The nightly News at Ten, which some companies had wanted moved to an earlier time, stayed where it was as a result of ITV pressure, and its new format had proved a success after an uncertain start.

Channel 4, bidding to break its financial link with the ITV companies, comes out best in the review. It is praised for its quality and range, although some aspects of taste and decency in its programmes have caused concern.

Two companies whose output was well reviewed announced job cuts yesterday. Anglia and Meridian, both controlled by Clive Hollick's conglomerate MAI, announced 188 redundancies.

GMTV went wrong from the moment it went on air on 1 January 1993, when it took over from TV-am. Owned by Carlton, LWT, the Guardian Media Group and Disney, it saddled itself with a pounds 34.6m a year bid for the breakfast franchise (nearly pounds 20m more than TV-am), and had to pay another 15 per cent a year of its total advertising and sponsorship income (some pounds 10m out of an estimated pounds 70m in 1993) to the Treasury.

At first, it tried to disguise its poor quality sofa-style TV with the 'F (fanciability) factor', improbably attached to the former ITN presenter Fiona Armstrong, who later denounced it as a 'nonsense'. As the year progressed, some improvements were made - news bulletins became longer and regional news contributions more professional - but children's programmes failed to live up to franchise commitments, and current affairs remained poor.

Carlton - which bid pounds 43m for the London weekday franchise, the most glittering prize of the 1991 ITV auction - displaced Thames Television, an old-style producer/broadcaster. More than 1,000 people lost their jobs, and Carlton - dominated by the entrepreneur Michael Green - deliberately opted not to recruit them.

However, Thames remains as a key supplier of top ranking programmes such as The Bill, and actually supplied more to the ITV network last year than Carlton.

The new company's track record is unconvincing, and its documentary series Hollywood Women was singled out by the ITC as particularly 'glib and superficial'.

WEAKNESSES HIGHLIGHTED BY THE ITC

CARLTON

Network performance, supplying prime time programmes very disappointing;

Quality of nationally networked programmes unimpressive;

Quality of drama mixed;

Entertainment performance uneven.

Documentaries: 10 promised, two delivered.

GMTV

Failed to match promised service;

Significant shortfalls in news, current affairs, children's information, religion and education;

Heavy reliance on bought-in cartoons;

Promise of major Sunday morning political interview not fulfilled.

Weekly current affairs shortfall of 1hr 10 mins.

(Photograph omitted)

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