Will ITV grab BBC crown with new drama line-up?

ITV offers a solid autumn schedule. Youth programmes and films may be weak, but the big-budget drama has come up trumps, says Nick Manning

After widespread interest from all areas of the media the new autumn ITV schedule delivers in spades. After a dispiriting trawl through the “bankers” (Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Emmerdale, You’ve Been Framed), the schedule hits the mark when reeling out the latest factual, comedy and drama line-up.

There are plenty of potential gems. The genuine highlight is the Alan Bleasdale adaptation of Oliver Twist, which stars Robert Lindsay and Julie Walters. Worth staying up for.

Granted, there are docu-soaps (The School, Shampoo), but they are in the Paddington Green mould. Some feature interesting characters, including a camp Liverpudlian hair salon owner, who could become a national institution overnight.

Upscale documentary series (Real Life) and one-offs (Manhunt) are “must stay in” material.

Comedy, which has always been hit and miss on the network, is not revolutionary. However, golden oldies, (such as the execrable Stars In Their Eyes) are counter-balanced by newcomers, such as Dr Willoughby, which captures Joanna Lumley at her best, stuffed bra and all.

Drama is the trump card: Essex housewives turning to armed robbery (Daylight Robbery); John Thaw playing John Thaw (The Waiting Time); and a drama which stars Juliet Stevenson (Trial By Fire). All stand out in a strong schedule.

Sport holds its head up with the Champions League and Rugby World Cup. Unfortunately there is snooker too.

ITV’s difficulties at film studio level shine through in a movie line-up, where debuts for Twister and Tomorrow Never Dies struggle to make re-runs of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon look respectable.

It may take longer to achieve perfection, but this schedule scores in its breadth and depth of quality, often in short supply on ITV. With strong casts, experienced writers and, thankfully, no new detective series, ITV’s drama has never looked better. The scheduling of the News at Ten move is crucial. We don’t know how the first real post- “News” season will play, but the omens are good.

A strong ITV is vital for advertisers, so the autumn schedule is good news for the commercial sector. If there is one weakness, it is in “youth” programming, with no real attempt to fill the gap created by Channel 4, Channel 5, satellite and cable. Brands with younger audiences will not be beating a path back to ITV’s door.

However, this is the most honest ITV schedule for years, doing what the network does best, avoiding the temptation to force itself on a reluctant audience. It is unashamedly a mass channel with no pretensions to small being small scale. ITV has targeted the BBC’s crown in drama and is matching it blow for blow; this is where the real money has gone, and it shows.

So well done, Richard Eyre and team, maybe the BBC not picking him as its director general was our gain.

Nick Manning is a managing partner at Manning Gottlieb Media

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