BBC unveils pounds 40m Christmas package: Sitcom specials and Hollywood movies 'to sweep TV ratings'

THE BBC's failsafe Christmas formula of putting on its top rating sitcoms for one-off specials mixed with premieres of two blockbuster Hollywood movies looks like ensuring it easily beats the opposition on Christmas Day.

But the corporation's pounds 40m Christmas package, unveiled yesterday, does show the glaring lack of a top class variety act, which used to be the staple of Christmas Day's evening viewing.

This is emphasised by the fact that at midday and in the late evening there are repeats of the Two Ronnies' Christmas and the 1977 Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show.

Starting with the now traditional early afternoon fare of Top of the Pops and the Queen's Christmas Message, BBC 1 continues on Christmas Day with the television premiere of Back to the Future III, starring Michael J Fox, followed by Christmas specials from Noel Edmonds, Only Fools and Horses, and Birds of a Feather, broken only by a regular session with EastEnders.

The evening film is another Hollywood premiere, this time starring Demi Moore and Whoopi Goldberg in Ghost.

BBC 2's films are all oldies with The Railway Children earlier in the day for younger viewers, and a 1966 film of Nureyev and Fonteyn in Romeo and Juliet as part of a Nureyev tribute.

The dance theme continues in the early evening with Northern Ballet's A Christmas Carol.

While BBC has the film of Ghost, ITV virtually gives up the ghost, surrendering to BBC's high spending with precious little fight.

Its Christmas night after The Bill at 6.30pm is almost totally taken up with films, none of them particularly new - National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, and Airport 77, only broken by Angela Lansbury in Murder She Wrote.

Channel 4, as part of its themed Big Apple Christmas, has a profile of a Harlem preacher mid-evening, but continues with old faithfuls The Snowman and Christmas with Luciano Pavarotti to bolster it.

Sky Movies interestingly has not let the recent debate on violence in movies alter its Christmas programming. It shows Terminator 2 - Judgment Day at 10pm on Christmas Day with the warning that it is 'not for kids'.

On other days during the holiday period the BBC sends some of its hit serials abroad. Lovejoy comes from North Carolina with guest appearances from the Dallas star, Ken Kercheval, and Sir John Gielgud, while Jimmy Nail leaves the comforts of Tyneside for a new Spender adventure in Marseilles. And Victor Meldrew goes to Portugal for One Foot in the Algarve.

Dame Kiri Te Kanawa stars in two operas, Handel's The Sorceress, and Richard Strauss's La Traviata, and Willard White stars in Trevor Nunn's production of Gershwin's Porgy and Bess.

Animated characters Wallace and Gromit - created by Creature Comforts Oscar-winner, Nick Park - are seen in a new children's adventure, The Wrong Trousers.

The BBC will be featuring television advertisements in a comedy special starring Jasper Carrott in Carrott's Commercial Breakdown, looking at the best and worst of the world's television adverts.

Other major films on BBC over the festive period include Sean Connery in The Hunt For Red October, Steve Martin and Michael Caine in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and Dudley Moore in Crazy People.

The Queen's Christmas Message will be broadcast at 3pm on Christmas Day on BBC 1 and repeated at 9.05pm on BBC 2 with subtitles and signing for the hard of hearing.

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