itv

Daytime TV Killed the British Bank Holiday

What do the following film genres mean to you?

  • War films
  • James Bond
  • Carry On films

To me they all scream Bank Holiday TV. You may have had plans to go out somewhere, but an annoying drizzle meant that you’d rather stay at home and see what’s on the box.

But in fact, that’d be wrong.

Maybe the Bank Holidays of yesteryear were like this, but these days you’d be hard pressed to differentiate a Bank Holiday’s output from any other Monday’s programming. No longer do we get much in the way of specials, one-offs or film premieres. There’s relatively little live sport left on free-to-air TV, and instead, the regular daytime schedule is extended into the Bank Holiday regardless.

Is the family at home? Or are you having a bit of a lie-in? No longer do you get to feast your eyes on anything different. It’s the regular diet of Jeremy Kyle, Homes Under the Hammer, Escape to the Country and Loose Women.

Indeed flicking through the dreary line-up during the recent May Day Bank Holiday, I had to sense-check that I hadn’t somehow taken a standard day off work by accident. It was wet outside, and if I wanted some actual entertainment, it’d be either be a DVD or Netflix.

But perhaps I was wrong? Was Bank Holiday TV that good in the past? I decided to find out by exploring previous listings.

I’ve taken a look at the TV on Spring Bank Holidays – the last Monday in May – over the last forty years by looking at the Radio Times every ten years from 1977 to date. (I didn’t have access to the TV Times, so ITV and Channel 4’s listings only start in 1997.)

1977

I said above that the last Monday in May is the Bank Holiday, but in 1977 the Spring Bank Holiday was the following week because this was also the Queen’s Silver Jubilee celebration weekend. The Radio Times featured an embroidered image of the Queen on the cover of their Souvenir Issue.

BBC One’s daytime schedule was sport focused. Following a Laurel and Hardy film, it was one-day England v Australia cricket and then Frank Bough presenting a Bank Holiday Grandstand that also featured Powerboat Racing (Murray Walker on commentary duties), Racing from Chepstow and Athletics from Leicester.

BBC Two opened at breakfast for some Open University programming, before closing down at 7.55am. It opened again briefly for Play School (Julie Stevens and Brian Cant), before closing down once more. It only reopened after lunch for the film Holiday in Mexico, before showing the end of the cricket.

The BBC One early evening started with Disney Time presented by Noel Edmonds, a showing of the film Scott of the Antarctic, The Music of Morecambe and Wise and a regular Starsky and Hutch. After the news, it was Silver Jubilee: Fires of Friendship, featuring live coverage of beacons being lit spreading out from Windsor up and down the country. Raymond Baxter presented it, and the Radio Times carried a handy map of all the bonfire sites. The evening ended with the film I Start Counting starring Jenny Agutter and Bryan Marshall.

BBC Two was also showing a patriotic film that evening with Laurence Olivier’s Henry V. That was followed by Neil Diamond, an episode of Women at War and a short play under the banner of Second City Firsts.

1987

In 1987, Noel Edmonds was the Radio Times cover as host of the SOS Star Awards on Saturday evening. But we’re going to concentrate on Monday’s TV.

For BBC One, that meant a Monday edition of Grandstand featuring England v Pakistan one-day cricket, the golf PGA Championship and coverage of The Milk Race cycling (with Phil Liggett and Hugh Porter on commentary duties).

BBC Two’s daytime saw You and Me, followed by several hours of Pages from Ceefax, before a Walton’s TV-movie spin-off, and continued cricket coverage took over.

Later in the evening, BBC One had Wogan, Bob’s Full House, Ever Decreasing Circles and then the film Staying Alive. After the news, there was an all-star celebration of 100 years of Hollywood.

BBC Two gave over the entire evening to the opera Turandot, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House and simulcast on Radio 3. It ended the evening with highlights of some the day’s earlier sport.

1997

In 1997, the cover featured Lenny Henry.

BBC One had Herbie Goes Bananas, followed by Disney’s Robin Hood. After a brief visit to Ramsey Street for Neighbours it was three hours of Spartacus.

Over on BBC Two there was Steve Rider presenting the PGA Championship from Wentworth for much of the day. But there was still time for Teletubbies, The Phil Silvers Show, and the film Rancho Notorious.

ITV was basically showing films all day. A fantasy film called Master of the World, starring Vincent Price and Charles Bronson (together at last?), Captain Ron with Kurt Russell, and then a true classic in Rio Bravo.

Channel 4 had a series of repeats including Bewitched and The Crystal Maze, before the film Challenge to Lassie and then Racing from Sandown Park. They did find space for Fifteen to One and Countdown.

Channel 5’s schedule looked more normal than most with regulars like Leeza, The Bold and the Beautiful, Family Affairs and Sunset Beach. But it did have the premiere of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III in the afternoon (Strong competition for that I’m sure).

Into the evening and BBC One had Red Nose Awards, Auntie’s TV Favourites, and Here and Now, with Sue Lawley interviewing The Spice Girls. A regular Eastenders was followed by Radio Times cover star Lenny’s Big Amazon Adventure and the start of a new series of Birds of a Feather. Following a later than usual news, it was the premiere of the film Staggered with Martin Clunes. Carry on Camping rounded off the evening.

BBC Two had Computers Don’t Bite with Carol Vorderman and Adrian Chiles, Mr Bell Goes to Westminster following Martin Bell taking on Neil Hamilton in Tatton, The Antiques Show with Francine Stock and Tales from the River Bank. The big film was Lorenzo’s Oil with Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon.

ITV had regular episodes of Wish You Were Here…? and Coronation Street. Then it had A Royal Gala for the Prince’s Trust, hosted by Sir David Frost and Joanna Lumley and featuring Gary Barlow and Jennifer Aniston.

Channel 4 was celebrating Sitcom Weekend all that evening, including Desmond’s, George and Mildred, Rising Damp, Father Ted, Cheers, and the film Up Pompeii.

Channel 5’s evening saw the premiere of, er, Revenge of the Nerds IV: Nerds in Love, and an episode Jack Docherty’s chat show.

2007

In 2007, Daniel Craig (as James Bond) was the cover star, and the magazine included a free “Giant Springwatch Wallchart.” It also asked the question of the latest Doctor Who episode: “Is this the scariest episode ever?” (Talking about the episode Human Nature).

By now, the schedules were feeling a little less special. BBC One had a morning of Animal Park, Homes Under the Hammer, To Buy or Not to Buy, Cash in the Attic and Bargain Hunt. Not that different to 2017 in some respects. After lunch it was old episode of ‘Allo ‘Allo!, Keeping Up Appearances and Murder, She Wrote. Then we got films of The Parent Trap and Father of the Bride Part 2.

BBC Two began with blocks of CBeebies and CBBC programming before running the popular TV movie High School Musical. This was followed by the John Wayne film, The Comancheros, followed by regular episodes of Living in the Sun, Escape to the Country, Flog It!, Eggheads and Weakest Link.

ITV was also now running a nearly normal schedule of The Jeremy Kyle Show, two episodes of 60 Minute Makeover, Loose Women, half an Inspector Morse repeat (part one had been the previous Friday), and For the Rest of Your Life. At 4.00pm it ran the 1983 film, Agatha Christie’s Sparkling Cyanide.

Channel 4 broke up its regular morning block of sitcom repeats with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: the Movie, a Pirates of the Caribbean 3: T4 Movie Special and the film Alaska with Thora Birch and Charlton Heston. It ended the afternoon with Countdown, Deal or No Deal and The New Paul O’Grady Show.

Channel 5 was showing a standard set of The Wright Stuff, Trisha Goddard, House Doctor, House, and then the films/TV movies, The Madness Within and Perry Mason: The Cast of the Lost Love.

BBC One’s evening was basically a standard issue Monday evening with Celebrity Masterchef, an Open All Hours repeat, EastEnders, Panorama, New Tricks and Not Going Out.

BBC Two’s evening was also standard fare, with a new series of Springwatch, the third in a documentary series Power to the People and only The Pledge with Jack Nicholson being an unusual film addition. At midnight viewers could spend two hours with Springwatch Nightshift.

ITV’s evening was mostly identical to any other, with Emmerdale, Coronation Street, Airline, more Coronation Street, and then the film Ocean’s Eleven. The evening was rounded off with The Championship featuring play-off highlights.

Channel 4 at least had a film in early peak with the premiere of Star Trek: Nemesis before the documentary Brits Get Rich in China. Then it was ER, Sport’s Dirty Secrets and late night repeats of Sex and the City.

Channel 5 had Airplane! Before highlights of the cricket (long gone from free to air TV), Fifth Gear, Paul Merton in China, Prison Break and the film Anaconda.

2017

Which all brings us right up to date, and I’m embedding some of my patented* (*they’re not patented) annotated Radio Times pages into this blog. This week’s edition has a The Beatles and Sgt Pepper because, er, there’s a re-issued CD boxset out?

(Click through if you can’t read what it says)

Radio Times 29 May 2017

This is near enough a completely usual Monday. All the daytime staples are there. The tiny amount of sport consists of highlights packages. The PGA golf, long a Bank Holiday tradition, now finishes on a Sunday like every other tournament, and is live on Sky, like every other tournament.

Only Channel 5 actually makes an effort, running a classic film in the afternoon (The Searchers), and launching their new mini-series sequel on The Kennedys.

The only way you’d know it was a Bank Holiday from these schedules would be to notice that the news is either shortened or completely missing from the schedules. Otherwise, it’s as you were.

Summary

The shift away from holiday programming to regular scheduling hasn’t been a fast one, but in recent years it feels like it has sped up.

In the 70s and 80s we didn’t really have daytime TV – indeed channels might actually shut down for a bit. But that left space for sport, for which there was no satellite competition. And the end of the football season meant that there was a range of sport available. There have always been films, but truth be told, they’ve not always been great. There have been some titles here that the best film critic would need to go away and look up.

Yet today, we’re almost at a point where the most you can expect is that the news might get shortened a little, BBC Two might run a film in place of Newsnight, and that’s about it. We don’t get special events, or one off specials any longer. Daytime and evening schedules run year around, and make little to no account for anything else. Certainly, if I’d been examining the May Bank Holiday, I’d have included the World Snooker Championships, long a staple of BBC TV over the period. But it feels like schedulers don’t really make the effort any longer.

Undoubtedly, Britain’s Got Talent and Springwatch are big draws for their respective channels, but there’s not even a non-soap drama to be found (unless you count Channel 4’s Loaded which is more drama-comedy).

It is true to say that we don’t get nearly as many repeats as we used to (a curious Guardian piece recently asked if the age of repeats was at an end. I would argue that this has long happened). Most drama on the main channels is first run in primetime. Even massive hits like Line of Duty or Poldark don’t get peaktime repeats.

And it’s also true that we have more access to entertainment. In the seventies, you’d have to wait until ITV showed Jaws before you got a chance to see it. Only with the rise of VHS, satellite TV, DVD, downloads and Netflix, did the audience gain control. However, ITV will still run one-off Maigrets, while the BBC and Channel 4 can have premieres of some of the films they’ve backed.

We’re said to be in a golden age of television; indeed “peak TV.” There’s so much good stuff, or “must-see TV” that we struggle to keep up. Are you watching the new seasons of House of Cards? Or The Leftovers? Or American Gods? Or Twin Peaks? Or The Americans? Or Doctor Who?

Season 7 of Game of Thrones is coming soon, perhaps you want to binge watch the previous six seasons? Or seven seasons of The Walking Dead?

Instead of moaning that ITV hasn’t bothered to change its Bank Holiday schedule from a normal one, perhaps I should understand that they know beyond their regular audience, anyone else watching TV will be doing so on their own terms. Watching iPlayer, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, ITV Hub, Now TV or Walter Presents boxsets.

Bank Holiday TV is a thing of the past.

The Nightly Show

Before ITV launched The Nightly Show into the 10:00pm weekday slot I said that we should avoid comparisons with US late evening talk shows since contrary to popular belief, it’s not trying to be one, and we should hold off looking at the ratings until it had settled into something a bit firmer.

This kind of show will never hit the ground running. There will be teething problems and the show will have to learn what kind of beast it actually is. It’s completely naive to expect that it will come to our screens fully formed no matter how much piloting there had been prior to launch.

I’m not going to claim to have watched every episode thus far, indeed I’ve only watched a handful. But I think that now we’re a few weeks in, we can get a more reasonable handle on what it should and shouldn’t be doing.

The initial round of criticism came as much as anything from ITV’s choice of first guest host – David Walliams. It really shouldn’t have come as a shock that his humour is broad and a little rude. Had nobody seen Little Britain? He was never going to be making incisive political humour at the expense of Donald Trump or Brexit. Instead we had lots of pre-recorded bits where he dressed up as women, as well as some slightly underwhelming interviews. Martin Clunes is a nice guy, but they really needed a bigger name to launch the show. The problem with Walliams is that he’s not all that interested in having a talk with a guest. Instead, he’s always looking for the next gag.

That was completely different in week two, when John Bishop took over. He’s got more experience in this area having already recorded a series of long-form interviews for W, and is recording some more for a second series. His week saw him carry out a more conversational style presentation with interviewees including Roger Daltrey and Martin Kemp. These interviews ran on a bit longer too.

In Walliams’ final Friday show, he’d had Bishop on as a guest (this would become a regular thing, as hosts passed on the baton – literally a microphone unlike any the show actually used), and when Bishop listed his upcoming guests for the new run of his W show, it seemed to be a slightly more inspiring list than guests he had lined up for The Nightly Show the following week!

Actually, the whole piece was very meta with a tacit acknowledgement that week one hadn’t worked and Bishop being ever-so-slightly barbed in his criticism of the show.

Incidentally, at time of writing, that video has less than 2,500 views. On the show’s YouTube channel, many of the videos have only scraped into four figures. Only some clips featuring boxers seem to have found any traction.

A top tip to whoever’s running the show’s YouTube channel is to include some kind of description along with the video – one video simply has the word “amazing” in the description.

Another intriguingly says “Ant and Dec get a taste of their own medici,” while seemingly having nothing to do with the dynastic Florentine banking family.

I’d guess that not properly including descriptions really won’t help people to find the videos from a Google search.

The third week saw Davina McCall take over the reins, and there seemed to instantly be a return to week one, with a pointless 60 second quiz that David Walliams had tried in his first episode (it didn’t work then, and it didn’t work now), as well as lighter guest interviews that elicited little to nothing from guests Boy George and Vicky McClure in the first show.

There is no shame in a daily show like this burning through ideas. You try something; it doesn’t work; you move on. If something does work, then great, you can bring it back another time.

In a recent Radio Today Podcast, Danny Baker mentioned, somewhat in passing when talking about the Sausage Sandwich Game on his Five Live Saturday morning show, that Chris Evans would create fairly solid “bits” each week on TFI Friday, that would then get flung away permanently in place of whatever else floated his boat the following week. He was burning through ideas on a weekly show. For a daily show, you really need to keep delivering new ideas at a rate of knots.

The only difference otherwise I could see was the addition of an Ellen-style DJ booth to the set, although the DJ seemed mostly interested in displaying his Beats headphones than doing much in the way of DJ-ing.

By the end of the week, the show seemed to have become some kind of dating show, perhaps recalling Streetmate, Davina’s breakthrough show from the late nineties, with overly produced segments of first dates and dating stories. Mel C was a guest, but Davina was barely interested in the answers to her list of questions, and Mel had been much more entertaining earlier in the week on Alan Davies’ show over on Dave.

And simply reading unfunny gags from an AutoCue does not make for a monologue.

I admit that I was tiring by week four, when Dermot O’Leary came on. He’s a safe pair of hands, but this was light entertainment writ small. He had a pianist on for no obvious reason, and was just a bit average.

Wednesday saw a terrorist attack in Westminster, and ITV dropped the show in favour of the news starting earlier at 10pm. Running pre-news on the day of a tragedy is always going to be tricky, and over on Dave, they didn’t show Matt Forde’s show either that night (even though it had been recorded the previous day).

At this point you have to wonder how successful the show is commercially. Aside from the Amazon Echo sponsorship credits, I saw barely any actual ads in the centre break. And the audience figures have not been great, being heavily reliant on hits like Broadchurch to get anything vaguely half-decent.

In my first piece, I said that we should be careful making comparison with American shows, and I tend to be in agreement with Richard Osman who explained quite clearly on Radio 4’s Media Show that he didn’t think this was an attempt by ITV to replicate that kind of show, whatever everyone’s preconceptions are.

He said that he wouldn’t be presenting because it wasn’t that kind of show. It’s an ITV show and it’s on in peak, so in effect it’s an extension of the kind of shows ITV runs on Saturday nights. Indeed Kevin Lygo, ITV’s Director of Television, said himself in his Guardian interview:

“This is a sort of LWT version of ITV. It’s loud entertainment, high-quality drama, and fun.”

In essence, this is Saturday night ITV stripped across the week.

If you’re actually looking for something a bit more ascerbic – more John Oliver than David Walliams – then you should really have been looking at Dave on Wednesday nights, where the aforementioned Unspun with Matt Forde has been running. It’s overtly political, seemingly modelling itself on The Daily Show with “correspondents” and has the traditional band that many US talk shows have. Although MP4 includes three serving and one former MP, always left me wondering how they’re always available for studio recordings, until the week when the SNP’s Pete Wishart was late to the recording due to Parliamentary business.

What next for The Nightly Show? Well they have a few more weeks to go, with upcoming presenters including Gordon Ramsey, Bradley Walsh and Jason Manford (so one woman in seven announced presenters).

I think they do need to settle on a permanent host. Having someone different come in each week to mould a show around is just unnecessarily hard at a time when the overall show’s tone is still finding its feet. Being a guest host on something firmly established, like Have I Got News For You, is much easier. There’s less of a learning curve, since the guest host knows what’s expected of them. Even then HIGNFY regularly returns to the same guest hosts each series.

The Nightly Show desperately needs that stability, as otherwise it’ll veer around week after week.

I think they probably need a larger roster of writers too. You’re going to burn through material at quite a rate on a show like this – at least you are if you’re not going to let mediocre material make it to air. That means a large writers’ room with people vying to get material into each night’s show.

That also means that you won’t end up burning out your writers, while at the same time, it keeps the quality threshold high. With all the attendant criticism, it must be really hard to be a writer on that show and not doubt what you’re doing. It also probably means they take the safe option all the time, and that’s not what that show needs right now.

And I’d also suggest that if you’re picking someone, theoretically randomly, from the audience, it does seem strange that they’re sitting in a camera-friendly place, and they’re already mic-ed up.

There is a tendency too in UK TV criticism to want to see a show fail. I don’t mean a big drama. If SS-GB doesn’t hit everyone’s critical buttons then never mind. There’ll be another Sunday night drama along in a minute.

The critical column inches about The Nightly Show have not really stopped since the show began. And I realise that I’m contributing to them in my own small way. Of course part of that is brought on by the show’s format itself. Each week a new presenter means that there’s an excuse for a new critical appraisal. Is this week’s presenter better than last week’s? Remove that obstacle and the show can settle down a bit.

I suspect that News at Ten Thirty will stay in that position. Although ratings have been hit since the move, a stronger offering in the 10pm slot could help. I’m not convinced that’s 90 minute dramas incidentally. I would imagine that they’re incredibly hard to sell internationally for one thing. And they also demand a lot more from the viewer. But a few edgier sitcoms, and a panel show or two might work there. Shorten “Play to the Whistle” for example (60 minute panel shows are always overlong); move Harry Hill to that slot; actually try something a bit more political.

There is definitely room for some incisive satirical TV, and we really don’t have it on British TV. There’s Have I Got News For You, and that’s basically it. BBC Two has just announced The Mash Report (a working title) with Nish Kumar, which is indeed coming from The Daily Mash. Certainly this will be something to look out for.

In Advance of The Nightly Show

This evening, ITV launches its big new entertainment gamble – The Nightly Show. They’ve taken over The Cochrane Theatre near Holborn, and for the next eight weeks they’ve also taken over The News At Ten’s slot. (Recall, this is the slot that only a year ago, the then Media, Culture and Sport Minister was wondering if the BBC should vacate to let ITV have an unimpeded run. Hmmm.)

There have been four weeks’ worth of pilots, and the USP of the show is that it will have different guest host presenters each week, beginning with David Walliams tonight. John Bishop and Gordon Ramsey are also lined up.

I confess that I’ve heard a couple of slightly off-putting things in advance of the show. There’s the suggestion that it won’t be especially political, which is odd in these political times. In an interview in The Guardian today, Kevin Lygo, ITV’s Director of Television is reported as saying:

‘”It’s not satire with a capital S,” he says. “They’ll poke fun at the news in a broad way, just as most chatshow hosts do.”‘

With a hope that they create lots of viral videos, it feels like it wants to be more James Corden than Samantha Bee or John Oliver.

But you have to set that against a time when we’ve got Brexit, May, Corbyn, Farage, Trump, and right-wing nationalism across Europe. While I wouldn’t necessarily suggest bringing it back (they already tried to an extent with Newzoids), Spitting Image was nothing if not political.

So I wonder if hidden camera japes and audience surprises are quite right? In any case, don’t Ant & Dec already do that with aplomb on Saturday nights?

Interestingly, in the US, Stephen Colbert has recently been overtaking Jimmy Fallon for the first time, with the suggestion that it’s because he’s taken a more political line following the election of Trump. Colbert comes from a background of devastating political satire on Comedy Central; Fallon ruffled Trump’s hair.

I also think we need to be bit careful making comparisons with some of these US shows.

Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel all air at 11.35pm on the coasts, not 10.00pm as The Nightly Show will. James Corden and Seth Myers air at 12.35am; long after any sensible person with a job has gone to bed.* This is also why producing viral videos like Carpool Karaoke segments is so important for Corden and his peers.

Calling a show that airs at 10pm a late-night show, is not just misleading, it’s wrong. Upwards of 10 million people are still watching UK TV at that time.

It’s also worth noting that the biggest chat show failure of recent times in the US, was when NBC gave Jay Leno a nightly 10pm slot for a while when he stepped down from The Tonight Show (before booting out Conan O’Brien and dropping Leno back in at 11.35pm, in a particularly unedifying moment in US late night TV show history). Arguably that was a different type of show, and the TV landscape at 10pm in the US is very different to ours.

However, one thing is clear. This show will undoubtedly take a bit of time to find its legs. So tomorrow’s overnights, which will be eagerly pounced upon, along with those of its leadout show, series three of Broadchurch, should be taken with a large pinch of salt.

As for the pushing back of The News at Ten – which becomes simply The ITV News, no doubt without the bongs – I would suggest ITV simply settles in that slot on a long term basis. It then won’t compete directly with the BBC, and at 10.30pm there’s no reason why both a more analytical Newsnight on BBC2, and a more mainstream ITV News can’t exist simultaneously. The downside for ITV is that on really big news days, the ratings for the BBC Ten O’Clock news will soar, while late local news bulletins and football highlights will take ratings hits.

* In the central timezone, these shows are on an hour earlier. But the over 60% of the US population gets these shows at the later time.

From Darkness and Unforgotten

In the last week or so, two new dramas have started on BBC One and ITV with on the face of it similar themes. Both are essentially crime dramas, and both deal with dead bodies from years earlier being dug up. Who are the bodies, and how did they get there. We get brief flashbacks in both during the discovery of the bodies.

The two series also share themes that, well, seem “inspired” by those of Scandi dramas like The Bridge, and Broadchurch. You know, all strings and chorals.

But from there, the two series depart. Unforgotten on ITV has gone out of its way to cast a big name in just about every role. We open with Nicola Walker’s detective talking to her dad, Peter Egan. Her fellow detective in Sanjeev Bhaskar, and then we get into the various characters who are somehow involved in the over-arching crime. These include Tom Courtney, Trevor Eve, Ruth Sheen, Bernard Hill, Gemma Jones, and Cheri Lunghi.

I’m not ITV is quite saying it, but I very much suspect that they believe that they might have another Broadchurch on their hands.

In fact, it’s a very decent drama, and while some of it feels a little unlikely – Trevor Eve’s parliamentary bits for example – overall it’s a show I’ll stick with. Even allowing for a team of forensics scientists who like to unveil their findings a little slowly to keep the detectives on tenterhooks.

Meanwhile From Darkness is trying for something a little more psychological. Unfortunately it seems to have many more genre tropes, making it decidedly average. The lead detective, Johnny Harris, is a gruff Londoner who on the discovery of several bodies on a building site, immediately heads up to the Western Isles, because he’s got a hunch that it’s related to a series of prostitute disappearances from 16 years earlier. He needs to talk to Ann Marie Duff’s character, who has long since left the police and started a new life in remote Scotland, where she trains for triathlons (although we’ve seen her swim and run a lot, there’s been no sign of any cycling just yet).

I’m sure there are Londoners who’ve spent 16 years with the Greater Manchester Police, but that’s not a good start. Oh and when he heads to Scotland, he takes his wet-behind-the-ears newbie DS, Anthony Boyce, with him. We know he’s wet because he asks for sweetener, can’t stand dogs, and doesn’t like blood. Even the script acknowledges that the police seems like an odd option for him. Of course he’s an Oxbridge type, and gruff Londoners who’ve seen it all, have to rub up against such types.

Even the boss, is the stereotypical hard woman who gives her detective a bit of leeway. I mean, he’s the kind of person who, upon seeing some bones in the mud, has instantly identified that they must have been prostitutes. There was a serial killer before, and there may be another one now! Can they catch him?

It’s just all a bit lazy, and decidedly average. Unforgotten is much the more interesting programme.

Channel Scheduling

In a couple of weeks’ time BBC Three is going to be showing the new third season of Orphan Black. The programme comes from BBC America, and although not a massive ratings hit, garners a lot of critical acclaim, particularly for its star Tatiana Maslany.

The show actually aired in the US between April and June this year, which means BBC Three has taken its time in showing the new series. But what’s really odd is its upcoming scheduling. Despite BBC Three commissioning having been wound down to a certain extent in the expectation that the channel would be “online only” a little earlier than it’s now likely to be and leaving schedules fairly full of repeats, BBC Three is seemingly only initially airing the programme in a graveyard slot.

And by that I mean nightly, sometime between 1am and 3am, in double episodes, stripped across a week. In this way, they’ll burn through the entire series in five days.

What this says to me is one of two things:

– BBC Three really doesn’t care about the programme. Although it must cost a relatively minimal amount (Although the machinations of a BBC Worldwide channel, now co-owned by AMC, licencing a show to a BBC national channel are beyond me), even the US version of The Apprentice, which nobody in this country cares about, and is full of hard-to-edit-out blatant product placement, gets better slots on BBC Three than that. And it’s not as though Orphan Black doesn’t have its fans.

or, much likelier,

– BBC Three is trying a bit of an experiment in binge viewing. The BBC introduced “series stacking” or “series catchup” in 2008. For BBC-made programmes, it meant that viewers could watch every of episode of, say, Doctor Who, while it was still on-air. It wasn’t available for every series due to rights restrictions, but it meant that at the end of a series’ run, for a single week, every episode was available to watch in one go. The reason it was only there for a single week was because 7 day iPlayer catch-up prevailed at the time. Last year, the BBC changed this around, and made everything available for 30 days. You had longer to catch-up, but the quid pro quo was that full series stacking was no longer available. Early episodes of a series dropped off the iPlayer as later ones became available. At no point would a full series of more than four weekly episodes be available to binge. Until the BBC amends its rights agreements, this is likely to remain the case. But by stripping double episodes across weekday nights, BBC Three effectively makes the whole new series of Orphan Black available to binge from the Saturday onwards for around 25 days. I suspect that this is what they’re going to try. Promoting watching it via iPlayer and perhaps running the show on a more usual weekly basis at that point.

Binge viewing definitely seems to be the “thing” of the moment, and I’ve found myself doing it more and more. If it’s not House of Cards, Daredevil or Narcos, it’s a box-set on Sky, storing up series on a PVR (Hands up if, like me, you now have two series of Peaky Blinders awaiting a viewing?) or an actual box-set of shiny discs.

As BBC Director General Tony Hall said only last week in a major speech about Charter Renewal:

“And I now want to experiment with the BBC issuing bigger and bolder series all at once on iPlayer, so viewers have the option of ‘binge watching’.”

Could this be another attempt at experimenting with this? The BBC notably introduced Car Share with Peter Kay earlier this year on a similar basis, although that didn’t require a nocturnal airing before it emerged initially as an iPlayer. We’ve seen Sky too play with the idea, carving the final series of Strike Back (A John Whittingdale favourite according to the speech linked below!) into two binge-able parts, as well as making series like Veep and documentary series The Jinx available to binge watch. Everyone is experimenting with the idea.

And while I’m writing about scheduling, it’s worth mentioning the element of new Culture Secretary John Whittingdale’s speech at the RTS Conference that has been widely picked up upon. Yes, the Terms of Trade section of his speech was more important, but it was this that got everyone’s attention:

“It is also important to look at the impact that the BBC has on its commercial rivals and – again to give just one example – whether it is sensible for its main evening news bulletin to go out at the same time as ITV’s.”

What a strange thing to highlight. It’s clearly completely out of remit for a minister to be worrying about how programmes are scheduled, beyond ensuring that PSBs broadcast news within primetime.

He’s talking about the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News going out at the same time as ITV’s News at Ten. Except that five seconds’ worth of searching might remind him that the reason the BBC switched to 10pm was because ITV had essentially vacated the slot in 1999 as it moved to first 11pm before then becoming the “News at When.” It ran entertainment programmes at 10pm first every night of the week, and later just some nights. It was again ITV who moved the programme back to 10pm where it by now competed with the BBC.

As with other scheduling decisions, is the BBC expected to wait to see where ITV deigns to put a programme and then schedule around it? For the most part schedulers do avoid obvious clashes because if you run two programmes aimed at the same audience simultaneously then you’re not going to get as good viewing figures as you might. But it’s a rare person who feels the need to watch both the BBC’s Ten O’Clock News and ITV’s News at Ten. And let’s not forget that Newsnight clashes too!

But all of this becomes ever more irrelevant in an age where we choose ourselves what we’re going to watch at the time of our choosing rather than a scheduler’s. And for news, there are of course multiple 24 hour services available around the clock, as well as numerous online options.

With enormous irony, on the very evening when Whittingdale was speaking, ITV had shifted its main news bulletin to 11pm for no other reason than because they wanted maximise the audience for their Champions’ League highlights at 10pm, a scheduling decision that one imagines will continue for subsequent rounds of the competition.

Six Nations’ Deal

Yesterday we learned that the BBC will lose it’s exclusivity of broadcasting the Six Nations, and will share coverage with ITV from 2016. The BBC has pulled out two years early from a previous agreement that ran until 2017, in a similar manner to the deal with Sky over F1.

To be honest, this seems like a sensible deal in cash-straightened times, and it’s smart that the Six Nations matches are being left on free-to-air TV. It seems likely that Sky or maybe even BT bid a higher sum, but there’s immense value to the rights being free to air. Sponsors get better coverage, and you get a new generation of viewers who are interested in the sport.

I’m still awaiting a comprehensive series of charts to fully explain to me whether the new BBC Licence Fee deal, which was rushed together in a week, is actually “cash flat”, represents a “10-12% cut by 2020”, or is “cut by 20% in real terms over five years”. [This blog posting is probably closest, suggesting a real-terms 10% fall.]

But it’s clear money is tight at the BBC, and sports rights have to be looked at sensibly. Sharing those rights with ITV seems a good win for both viewers (they stay free-to-air, and are shared as they are for World Cups and European Championships), the BBC (saves money) and ITV (gets rights to a very valuable sports commodity at a time when they’d lost FA Cup rights and Champions’ League football, and seriously needed something to fill the gap).

I’m not at all sure that this is the “body blow” that some reports would have you think. Memories are short, and at the start of the millennium, England games from the competition were actually broadcast by Sky Sports. It’s only relatively recently that the BBC has had exclusive coverage of all the games, and that they’ve been spread out over a weekend so that they don’t clash for a TV audience.

Watching HD TV

At home, I have two ways to watch broadcast HD television. I can either watch via Freeview or Sky HD (Strictly speaking, my TV also has Freesat built in, but I’ve never enabled it).

In a Freeview world, should I chose to watch one of the biggest channels: BBC1, BBC2, ITV, C4 or C5 I can do one of two things:

– I can go to channels 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 for SD video
– Or if I care about HD, I can go to 101, 102, 103 or 104 (Channel 5 chose not to be in HD on Freeview for financial reasons)

It’s a pretty simple choice, and the numbers aren’t hard to remember. Freeview puts all its HD channels in one place. Additional HD channels are available between 105 and 111, with the HD versions of CBeebies and CBBC placed in amongst the children’s section in the 120s.

But I spend most of my time within the Sky world because it lets me record. And with Sky HD, it’s more complicated:

– For mostly SD channels, I go to 101, 102, 103, 104 or 105 for SD video. Except BBC2 is in HD.
– For HD channels, I go to 141, 102, 178, 227 or 171.

Huh? That’s not very intuitive. I have a big HD TV set (the average set sold these days is over 40″), so why doesn’t everything default to HD?

The main reason is cost.

All the major TV broadcasters have regional variants, and each one requires an additional broadcast stream. That means quite a lot of money spent on satellite feeds. Sky will happily serve audiences with the right version dependent on their subscribers’ postcodes, but the costs are not to be sniffed at. ITV has 23 different regions, with sub-opts within some larger regions sometimes offering localised news, but all offering localised advertising. BBC One, meanwhile, has 18 regions (all of which can be found from 950 onwards on Sky), and BBC Two has four – one for each nation. Both Channel Four and Channel 5 sell regional advertising and have several versions too.

Broadcasters have not yet paid for simulcasts of every one of those channels in HD. And because either localised news or advertising is deemed to be very important, the default versions of channels they supply – even to HD homes – is usually the SD version of the channel. That’s because they want to maximise local ad ratings. The HD versions will have London/national advertising. And for BBC One, there’s those awkward empty segments where the local news would be. The exception is BBC Two which only has four variants and carries some specific non-news nations programming. BBC2 HD England has been made available, with other nations currently getting SD – hence me getting BBC2 HD on 102. On the other hand, the other nations get BBC1 in HD whereas in England, we don’t.

Sky allows broadcasters to chose which version of their channels get highest billing. If you have a simple non-regionalised channel in both SD and HD, channels usually choose to place their HD version in the lower EPG slot in HD homes and the SD version in non-HD homes. They call this channel swapping.

The second reason for poor EPG positioning is a choice made by broadcasters.

EPG positions are paramount, and broadcasters hoard them carefully – the lower the numbers the better. The PSBs get 101 to 105 on Sky by right. Sky itself has the next batch, and it’s notable that most of the most watched channels appear at the top of EPGs in the lower positions. But broadcasters can shuffle their own decks, and that leads to some odd things.

ITV offers the following to HD homes on Sky:

– 103 ITV (SD)
– 118 ITV2 HD
– 119 ITV3 HD
– 120 ITV4 HD
– 123 ITV Encore HD
– 131 ITV+1 (SD)
– 178 ITV HD
– 179 ITV Be (SD)
– 180 ITV2+1 (SD)
– 193 ITV3+1 (SD)
– 206 ITV4+1 (SD)
– 207 ITV Be+1 (SD)
– 208 ITV Encore+1 (SD)
– 225 ITV2 (SD)

The ITV2-4 variants are Sky HD exclusive, and ITV Encore is available only to Sky subscribers in either SD or HD versions. And ITV Be doesn’t have an HD version on Sky, but does on Virgin Media!

This leads to the oddity that in Sky HD homes, ITV2, 3, and 4 are much more obvious in HD than the main channel. Indeed ITV+1 is considered more important than ITV HD judging by EPG positions. I assume careful analysis of BARB TV ratings has been used to make this decision, because it would imply that a show on ITV gets more share from a +1 channel than the HD version. If that’s not the case, then they should swap them.

Still, ITV is positively sensible compared with Channel 4’s line-up:

– 104 Channel 4 (SD)
– 135 Channel 4+1 (SD)
– 136 E4 HD
– 137 E4+1 (SD)
– 138 More 4 HD
– 139 More 4+1 (SD)
– 140 4seven (SD)
– 202 E4 (SD)
– 227 Channel 4 HD
– 231 More 4 (SD)
– 315 Film 4 HD
– 316 Film 4+1 (SD)
– 342 Film 4 (SD)
– 360 4 Music (SD)

Aside from the film and music channels, Channel 4 can reshuffle this deck to their liking pretty much. So why on earth is Channel 4 HD buried in an EPG position beyond 200? Are they really saying that E4+1 or More 4+1’s channel positions are more important? Do they offer greater share than Channel 4 HD? If not, then they should reshuffle their deck.

The question then is when are broadcasters going to upgrade their offerings?

icmr-3.7

According to recent Ofcom research, 70% of UK homes have an HD TV, yet only 45% have an HD service.

There are probably reasons for this. While it’s just about impossible to buy a non-HD TV today, there are older and cheaper models in the marketplace. Older sets and set-top boxes aren’t HD compatible, while Sky charges a premium for HD.

Looking at Sky’s 2014 Annual Report it would seem to infer (P138) that of their 10.7m homes, 5.2m have Sky+HD, or 49% of Sky’s customers.

You would imagine that with Sky’s next update, more of their customers will have HD than not. So broadcasters might want to showcase their HD offerings a little more visibly.

It’s a shame that there’s not a technically smarter solution – perhaps having a flag on the HD channel that points to SD programming at certain points to show the right programming.

And incidentally, if HD satellite capacity is expensive, how on earth is this going to work with 4K? Good luck getting your regional news in 4K via a broadcast platform any time soon!

In the meantime, it’s a bit like the old days of Ceefax: I have to keep a load of numbers in my head to watch the big channels in HD. That’s a poor solution.

[Updated following Chris’s comment below]

The Open Goes to Sky

As has been widely anticipated in the press, today saw news that Sky Sports has won a five-year contract beginning in 2017 to broadcast The Open golf tournament exclusively live. The BBC will have a two hour 8pm-10pm highlights package.

Sky is said to be paying twice as much as the BBC, and they will no doubt throw loads of resources at the coverage. Of course viewers will get advertising as well, but those who find Peter Alliss a little “long in the tooth” will be happy.

The downside is that one of the only remaining golf tournaments on free-to-air television is gone. All that is left is the final two days of The Masters (Sky having all four days after an F1-style sharing agreement was reached a couple of years ago).

From my perspective, I’m not too bothered about golf per se. I don’t play it. I’ll watch it if it’s on, but when The Open is played, I tend to prefer to be outside myself enjoying the summer rather than holed up in my living room with the curtains drawn to avoid sun causing glare on my TV.

But while this deal offers a nice cash injection to the R&A, it’s really short-term thinking to remove a sport from national coverage when it’s in decline.

With the greatest will in the world, two hours’ highlights on BBC2 when anyone who cares already knows the result, is of little relevance.

Since I last wrote about this subject, when rumours mounted that live coverage of The Open would be leaving free-to-air TV, Sport England has released the full results of the most recent sweep of its Active Sport survey with the full year results up to and including October 2014.

So I’ve updated the chart I published previously, which shows at least once a month participation in sport:

Specifically it shows that the percentage of the population who play golf has fallen from a high of 3.73% (2007/2008 – towards the end of Tiger Wood’s unparalleled reign over the sport), to just 2.57% in the latest sweep. To be clear, Sport England reports that this is a statistically significant decrease. Indeed that represents almost a third fall in people playing the game.

Hiding your sport behind closed doors wouldn’t seem to be the most sensible thing to do.

Notably at the weekend, Lee Westwood was reporting the impending deal as being “an absolute disgace.”

“I wouldn’t have got into golf if it wasn’t for watching Nick Faldo win the Open in 1987. I would watch every minute of the coverage, and you want today’s kids to have the same opportunity. The BBC is doing golf no favours at all by letting the Open go.”

I’ll remind you again that Lewis Hamilton beat the more deserving (IMHO) Rory McIlroy, almost certainly because the average man or woman in the street has perhaps caught a bit of F1 on television. Frankly, you’ll be doing well to see much of McIlroy.

Recently I heard Kevin Pietersen on the radio talking about the success of Australia’s Big Bash Twenty20 cricket tournament. He was enthused about how well the league is doing, and how the franchise system works.

I’d suggest that the reasons for it’s success are less to do with the franchise system (which works well for players getting big paydays of course), and more to do with the tournament being broadcast on the free-to-air Network 10 channel is Australia.

I would humbly suggest that the ECB could re-jig the domestic Twenty20 tournament as much as it liked, but unless there’s some way to watch games live on free-to-air TV, the long-term decline in cricket participation will also only continue. It’s down nearly 20% since the Sport England survey began in 2005/6 – and yes there is a small uptick this year, but it’s not statistically significant. Sky, remember, won exclusive rights to Test cricket in 2006. And highlights – particularly for something like Twenty20, are fairly worthless in the scheme of things.

Rugby Union is the next sport that should be taking some notice. The spread of availability of rugby seems a reasonable combination of free-to-air and pay TV. The Six Nations is free on the BBC, and the World Cup is free on ITV. ITV/ITV4 has highlights of the Aviva Premiership, while BT Sport has live coverage. BT Sport and Sky share rights to the inaugural European Rugby Champions’ Cup, and Sky shows England’s autumn internationals, with the BBC having other home nations coverage and highlights of the England games. Finally there is also BBC Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland coverage of the Pro12 (formerly Celtic league), often on the red button.

But rugby too has to be careful. The most recent Sport England Active People survey results show 0.59% of the population playing rugby at least once a month. That’s down from a high of 0.76%.

So it’ll be interesting to see what happens with the Six Nations contract next time around. Sky or BT may offer more money, but as a regulator, is it in your interests, to maximise your revenues today, or think about the future of your sport tomorrow? It feels more of today’s regulators are only considering the former.

And one further thought. Should sports who choose to remove free-to-air coverage of their events still be in receipt of grants from bodies like Sport England? According to their most recent accounts, they award close to £300m of lottery and exchequer money to support the take-up of sport by more people (which in turn improves the health of the population and lowers costs to the NHS).

Is your sport deserving of these funds if they’re making it harder for young people to watch top flight action?

Is There Room for Horror on UK TV?

I mentioned that I’d enjoyed Mark Gatiss’ version of The Tractate Middoth over Christmas. And although that is certainly more of a ghost story than a horror story, it made me wonder why we don’t get more horror series on British television. Series like American Horror Story, and arguably The Walking Dead, prove that there’s popularity in these kinds of tales. There was Charlie Brooker’s Dead Set, and we’ve had vampire tales of various sorts – not least the current Dracula on Sky Living and BBC Three’s Being Human.

But none of those are really horror series. Out to scare you and give you frights. There are tense bits, but they try to do other things as well.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised that we don’t actually have the slots that could show such shows on the main channels. Yes BBC Three or ITV2 can do something, but think about BBC One and Two, ITV and Channel 4. The times of the main news programmes on those channels limits what’s possible for the most part.

Bear in mind that although there is a 9pm watershed that should allow programmes to be a bit scarier/violent/sexier, there are rules that dictate that broadcasters don’t start too abruptly with unsuitable material:

“Content that commences after the watershed should observe a smooth transition to more adult content. It should not commence with the strongest material.” – Ofcom guidance

As an example of this, Channel 4 recently rescheduled the imported Masters of Sex from 9pm to 10pm mid-run. This may have been due to ratings, but even the “previously on Masters of Sex” segment would have needed re-editing to go out at directly at 9pm.

Now Channel 4 is the only channel that has a suitable drama slot in that it can show hour long series at 10pm. And they used it last year for Utopia, although I suspect that they were disappointed with the viewing figures (it was one of my favourite programmes of 2013). BBC One and Two need to start their dramas at 9pm. OK, BBC Two could start theirs at 9.30pm but given that nobody else has a programme junction at that time, it’d be a very daring thing to do. ITV similarly has to start dramas at 9pm.

There’s nothing to stop a channel running a drama after the news at 10.35pm, but that’s not a slot that’d get a high audience, and channels rightly decide that they’ll spend their drama money when the audience is watching.

None of this is a problem for smaller channels – BBC Three or Four could do it; Sky Atlantic does do it to an extent (The Following is almost a horror series); Sky Living can do it.

But I wonder to what extent the biggest commissioners of original UK drama are constrained by the time-slots available to them? And does that prevent someone making a full-blown horror series?

Radio and TV Favourites

I think my favourite TV programmes over the Christmas and New Year period were a series of films that I didn’t spot at all when I was going through the Radio Times. Endeavour: Everest was a series of three films made by Leo Dickinson shot in and around Mount Everest between 1976 and 1991. They each focus on a different challenge – canoeing down from Everest, making the first ascent of the mountain without oxygen, and the first (and only) flight over the mountain in a hot-air balloon. Dickinson has made many adventure films over the years, and I believe that some of these were originally made for HTV, and they’ve been cleaned up digitally and scanned in HD. So it’s lovely that BBC Four has just gone fully HD to allow viewers to see the most of these films. I think they’ve also been brought up to date a little – for example there’s a Google Maps insert in one of them. But for the most part, they’re still the original award-winning film documentaries.

Two of the films are narrated by Ian McNaught-Davis, who I tend to think of as the chap who presented many of the BBC’s microcomputer programmes in the eighties, but who is also an alpine climber. What’s fascinating about these films, along with epic stories they’re telling, is the way the stories are constructed technically and tightness of the narrative. When you watch a 21st century production, you know that you can probably skip the first five minutes since it’ll give away all the highlights up front. And if it’s on a commercial channel, this will happen at every break. There’s also a distance in these films. Partly I suspect due to the challenges of recording audio as well as film, the films are narrated at a distance. There’s rarely a shot of any of the participants directly addressing the camera. Today it’s a given that we’ll have a night vision “video diary” inside a tent somewhere. But the distance lends something too. It just shows that there are more than one way to skin a cat.

It also feels as though these aren’t really the films that TV companies are interested in any longer. Witness Ben and James Versus the Empty Quarter on BBC Two, or Bear’s Wild Weekend with Stephen Fry. I enjoyed both of these, but it’s very clear that a different form of programme is required by schedulers these days. We need to already know who the participants are. Even if their claim to fame is that they’re a mate of Ewan McGregor!

All three films are still on iPlayer, and get another outing on BBC Four next Monday to Wednesday.

On the radio, I’ve got to highlight a couple of sets of letters that appeared in the Book of the Week slot on Radio 4. Neither is sadly still there on the Radio 4 website – roll on the 30 day catch-up. First up is a delightful reading of Darling Monster, letters from Lady Diana Cooper to her son – Darling Monster. These were beautifully read by Patricia Hodge with inserts from John Julius Norwich – the son in question. Cooper led a wonderful life and seemed to know everybody.

The letters in the lead up to the war and during it are utterly engrossing. Of course over one hour and fifteen minutes you only get a taster of the letters, so just today I’ve been out to buy the book the letters are extracted from (It’s half price in some branches of Waterstones just now.

The other set of diaries I only listened to after I’d read the diaries in question. I read some rave reviews of Love Nina in the papers, but I was a little nervous. The people who were saying such lovely things are very much part of the literary set. And this book of letters from Nina Stibbes who arrived in NW1 as a nanny is just brilliantly funny. The cast of characters is wonderful with some very funny kids under her care as well as Alan Bennett dropping by for supper each night. She writes back to her sister in Leicester relaying direct quotations from all and sundry. It’s just wonderful. You need to read/listen to it! At time of writing, just the last episode is still on iPlayer, while the book is thoroughly recommended and can also be found for half price in the Waterstones sale. Both the assistant who sold me my copy and a stranger on a train expressed excitement when they saw me with the book.

Perhaps both of these will show up on Radio 4 Extra in due course.

Also on the radio was the regular New Year’s Day Concert from Vienna – a firm favourite for me. It also gets broadcast on BBC Two and again on BBC Four. Invariably, a CD will be available.

And there was a lovely Front Row special on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was only ever a very occassional watcher, but seeing as the whole thing is on Netflix…

More or Less always does a good “numbers of the year” episode which is worth a listen. And while I didn’t hear a great deal of the celebrity edited Today programmes, I did listen to an interesting discussion at the end of Eliza Manningham-Buller’s edition which really didn’t address some of the serious points Tim Berners-Lee had made the day before over the nature of the Snowdon leaks. (Deserving of a whole blog to itself, is a superb and essential piece by John Naughton from Sunday’s Observer.)

On TV, the obvious highlight was Sherlock. Put away your phones and tablets when you’re watching it. You’ll miss something. The verve of the shoe is joyous. And I loved the way they handled the “how did he survive” element. It looks like this brief run – all three episodes over ten days – will give us another bad guy to enjoy. We even got a mini episode. And Mark Gatiss was great too!

Gatiss is on a hot streak, as he directed a fine new MR James adaptation of The Tractate Middoth (the BFI collection of previous Christmas ghost stories was a lovely present for me this year). And this was followed by a superb documentary on the man himself. It’s always wonderful to discover that there’s someone alive who can be interviewed who knew the subject. Although both have dropped off the iPlayer, I’m sure a DVD release will happen in due course – perhaps by the BFI in time for next Christmas?

We managed to wean the family off Downton this year – the scripts really are awful. But I was a little disappointed by Doctor Who. It wasn’t bad – just not as great as the fiftieth anniversary episode a few weeks ago. I’m looking forward to Peter Capaldi though (first up in the new Musketeers series!).

I did like Death Comes to Pemberley over three nights though. It kept my family engrossed, even if mum had read the book and it was all we could do not to get her to give away plot details. The story was very cleverly weaved into the existing world I thought. And PD James can tell a good whodunnit. I’m also looking forward to the stars’ upcoming new series: Anna Maxwell Martin’s Bletchley Circle which starts on Monday, and the second series of The Americans with Matthew Rhys (I’m curious to see what ITV does with this, since I think they thought they had the new Homeland. But even if they did, I’m not convinced they’ve got anywhere they can naturally house it. ITV3 is probably their best bet, but they’d have to tell people it was there!).

Still Open All Hours felt very much like a pilot for a new run of the show. I guess David Jason still feels he wants to prove something after the fiasco of The Royal Bodyguard. Judging by the numbers it got, I’d have thought there was a fairly decent chance of that happening assuming all those involved want to. However I’m a bit concerned about the constant temptation to revisit old classics rather than make new ones. I’ve not been “lucky” enough to watch the ITV continuation of Birds of a Feather, but I was never a fan of it first time around, and certainly not by the time it had been on for many years. In recent years we’ve also had To The Manor Born, while Gold has made a new run of Yes Prime Minister which felt very stale in a post-Thick of It world.

Finally, I was personally really pleased to see what I think must be the return of Moments in Time. This used to run regularly and served as a news review of the year, but through the medium of iconic photojournalism. It disappeared a few years ago, but re-appeared over Christmas with a slant on the increased emergence of camera phone pictures, from the Vauxhall helicopter crash, and the Lee Rigby murderers, to the survivors of Australian bush fires. There were plenty of photos from journalists too – including the paparazzo who shot those pictures of Charles Saatchi and Nigella Lawson. It’s on iPlayer until 6 January.