Chris Maume: Blind Date is better than second rate

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The Independent Online

So, two become one, as the Spice Girls so eloquently put it, with no more Saturday night football ridiculously early then ridiculously late. Instead, a one-hit wonder – and at the same time as Match of the Day. With a repeat on Sunday mornings, too. Funny, that.

The end of The Premiership as we know it, would appear, on the face of it, to be a case of people power pole-axing the corporate cretins. Ralph Nader, the American consumers' champion famous for organising wildly effective boycotts, would approve: nobody liked the new Saturday football set-up, the viewers voted with their remotes, and ITV caved in.

Instead, though, we learn from one of the tabloids (so it must be true) that it wasn't the customers what won it – it was Cilla Black. Anyone who had a heart should have realised that when Blind Date was due to step inside love and embark on a new series, the Madonna of Merseybeat, the Viscountess of Variety, would be less than happy at being upstaged by footy highlights.

What's it all about? The figures spell it out: Blind Date gets around 8 million, The Premiership around half that (and in the middle of the worst advertising recession in history). "Cilla made it clear that if she didn't get 7pm she was walking out," an ITV whistle-blower said. "It caused a massive row because some executives thought we should call her bluff." Only the particularly cretinous ones.

"Des wasn't told about Cilla's ultimatum," the mole went on, "otherwise he would have hit the roof." Hit it in an affable, svelte way, of course. Enough hot air has already been expended on The Premiership – and I'm about to expend some more. What Lynam should be concerned about is content, not timing. Last week's effort was averagely crummy, cynically saving up the match of the day,– the Result of the Season – Bolton's victory over Manchester United – till the end of the programme (like writing a theatre review and mentioning in the last paragraph that oh, by the way, the President was assassinated in his box during the second act). What that meant for those unlucky enough to be catching the extended re-run was that coverage of Man U-Bolton began at about 1.45am – treating United with the contempt many feel they deserve, perhaps, but not exactly providing the best possible service. Norra lorra use to anyone, in fact.

And still there were the info-strips disporting themselves illegibly across the top of the screen, and still there was the Tactics Truck, still with Andy Townsend, who still had nothing meaningful to say. It was a brave gamble to attempt to transform viewing habits ingrained over decades, but as brave gambles go it was roughly analogous to the plight of Charalambos Xanthos on Late Night Poker (Channel 4, Thursday) as he tried one last hand: "He's spinning one red chip and a lot of dreams." Pipe dreams in ITV's case.

"Smokin" Steve Vladar also came to mind as he took a bad beat when a pair of eights should have won him a huge pot: "You can do everything right and still lose out." ITV could have constructed a world-beating highlights package, the greatest highlights package since the Bayeux Tapestry, and still no more than four and a half million would have tuned in. We're just not used to our Saturday nights kicking off with football. As several observers remarked during the poll tax disturbances in 1990, the English are the only people who riot to keep things the same. Not even the likes of ITV can mess with the national character.

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