ITV looks to costume drama in ratings war

ITV is to take on the genre the BBC has made its own - costume drama - in an attempt to boost its ratings this autumn, it emerged yesterday.

It is to screen an adaptation of Jane Austen's Emma, by Andrew Davies, who wrote the recent adaptation of Pride and Prejudice for the BBC. It will star Kate Beckinsale as the meddling but well-meaning heroine.

Mr Davies has also written ITV's other two landmark costume dramas for this autumn: a four-part adaptation of Defoe's Moll Flanders, starring The Knock's Alex Kingston, and an adaptation of Dennis Danvers' haunting love story, Wilderness.

The dramas will complement returning series, including Soldier, Soldier, London's Burning, Taggart and Heartbeat.

The controversial continuation of the Poldark story, filmed by HTV last year, will also hit the screens this autumn, despite the outcry at the decision not to employ Robin Ellis and Angharad Rees to recreate Ross Poldark, the Cornish mine owner, and his wife Demelza.

The pair played the lead roles in the hugely popular 1970s BBC series which attracted 15 million viewers weekly but they were dropped by HTV when salary negotiations failed. John Bowe and Mel Martin were asked to take up the story of the final Poldark novels instead.

Meanwhile, ITV also confirmed long-standing rumours yesterday that a fourth episode of Coronation Street will go out at 7.30pm on Sundays from late November in a bid to bump up Sunday night ratings.

Marcus Plantin, the network controller, denied the extra episode would kill enthusiasm for the soap which regularly attracts 16 million viewers.

"Granada [which makes the programme] are handling the fourth episode with consummate care. There will be new characters and a new street. We will grow the Coronation Street family," he said.

"It is not just eking out what's already there. Within a very short time everyone will say 'Coronation Street on Sunday - hasn't it always been there?' The Street is an institution, it is part and parcel of most people's lives and the decision was not taken lightly.

"With Coronation Street's fourth episode we will devise a storyline which will peak on the Sunday night but viewers will have to wait for the denouement on the Monday."

Phil Redmond, whose production company makes Brookside, has long argued that all soap operas will eventually go to four days a week, despite concerns that it would mean too much strain for the stars and that the programmes would inevitably become weaker as a result.

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