The lost programmes of Atlanta

This weekend sees the start of the BBC's wall-to-wall Olympic coverage. But is it all too much? Michael Streeter reports

Michael Streeter
Thursday 18 July 1996 23:02

As the nation settles down in front of its television sets for 300 hours of coverage of the Olympics, the fightback against wall-to- wall sport has started.

A coalition, including Tory MPs and fans of the cult series Murder One, is taking on the BBC - with some early success

Followers of Murder One, which is building to its dramatic climax, forced the corporation into a mini-climbdown after learning that the next two weeks of episodes were being postponed to make way for the Atlanta Games, which open today.

The BBC agreed to show two episodes of the show consecutively as soon as the Games are over, and to broadcast the final programme the next evening.

Other programmes to be hit will be Watchdog, Panorama, Mastermind, the hit comedy Goodnight Sweetheart, Auntie's Bloomers, Small Talk, the Good Food Show, and Summer Holidays. Screenings of the first series of The X-Files will be re- duced from two to one a week.

David Wilshire, Conservative MP for Spelthorne, said he will be seeking assurances from Mr Birt that future gluts of televised sport are scheduled more sensitively for those with little or no interest in the subject.

"The current scheduling is ridiculous." he said. "To block up just one channel could be done quite happily, but to do it to both is too much. I think there has been an overdosing of sport this summer. It is a question of striking a balance.

His comments, echoed by viewers' groups and many leading figures contacted by the Independent, come on the eve of 300 hours of Olympic coverage on BBC1 and BBC2 over the next two weeks, costing pounds 30m.

The BBC counter-claims by saying that, on BBC2 in particular, there will be regular favourites, refugees from BBC1 and new shows, including Gardeners' World, Top of the Pops and Ready, Steady, Cook.

A spokeswoman said: "We are delighted to be the national Olympic broadcaster. It is an amazing event, and not just for sports fans."

On the Murder One row, she added: "We ask our viewers to be a little bit patient because we have a major commitment to the Olympic Games.

"However, they will be getting a triple treat when the three episodes are shown. It's definitely worth the wait."

But, as Mr Wilshire pointed out, the Olympics are not the only issue; this summer will have seen the Euro 96 football championships, Wimbledon, and a total of six cricket Tests. The British Open Golf Championship is also being extensively televised.

The National Viewers' and Listeners' Association fears that the diet of sport, sport and more sport will cause friction in some households, a view echoed by the marriage guidance organisation Relate.

Meanwhile, Sky TV added to the BBC's embarrassment over the Murder One row by announcing that it would be re- running the final episodes over the next few weeks.

And Channel 4 bosses have moved Brookside to an earlier slot to compete with the BBC's extensive evening Olympics coverage.

The Liverpool-based soap will run alongside The Essential Olympics at 8pm, an earlier time than usual, on Tuesdays, Wednesday and Fridays from 23 July to 2 August.

As for sport, on a typical day of Olympic coverage, for example next Wednesday, BBC1 will be broadcasting the Games from 7am to 9am, from 9.05am to 12.35pm, from 1.40pm to 5.35pm, from 7pm to 9pm and from 10.20pm through to 4.25am.

On the same day, BBC2 will feature the Games from 9pm to 10.20pm.

Viewers reeling from this news should beware; the BBC has the rights to television coverage of the next three Games.

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