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Thursday, 9 August, 2001, 18:04 GMT 19:04 UK
Saturday night TV fever
Des Lynham and Anne Robinson
Lynham and Robinson: Will they split the UK?
By BBC News Online's Olive Clancy

On Saturday 18 August Anne Robinson's hit quiz show The Weakest Link special will go head-to-head with Des Lynham's ITV premiership coverage.

For many years there was a consensus that Saturday night was about 'family viewing' - light entertainment that could please everybody from junior to granny.

Dr Who
Dr Who: Daleks for kids and amusing enough for adults
"The classic line-up was Grandstand, followed by Dr Who, Jukebox Jury and finished with a superstar Variety show, " says Jeff Evans, author of the Penguin TV Companion.

"And I think that's an enticing line-up, if not to my personal taste."

It certainly attracted huge audiences in its heyday, but the Saturday night line-up has been more or less unchanged in 25 years.

Meanwhile society changed, videos were invented and a Saturday night goggle-eyed in the sitting room began to seem an increasingly unattractive option.

Now the big broadcasters are recognising that "please everybody" scheduling does not work, hence the changes.

Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal: Appeals to niche audiences
Simon Terrington, managing director of Media strategy group Human Capital says the move is not before time.

"If you try to work for everybody, you end up working for nobody," says Terrington, explaining the decline in Saturday night viewing figures.

"Because of fragmentation and social change, people don't want compromise programming any more, they want something special."

Terrington points to the popularity of programmes like Ally McBeal which are watched by niche audiences rather than by viewers of different ages or social categories.


We do so few things as families in Britain any more and TV was the last bastion

Jeff Evans, author of Penguin TV Companion

When ITV announced weeks ago that it would screen its premiership football highlights in the middle of the peak-time schedule, they declared it an occasion to "change the shape of Saturday night television".

ITV said it hoped to get women to watch football and hook children who could never have watched Match of the Day into the coverage.

In reality what it is likely to gain is a male audience.

Quiz specials

There had been rumours that the BBC would schedule a fourth episode of EastEnders for Saturday night.

The Two Ronnies
Two Ronnies: Huge audience pulling power
Instead a series of one-off specials of the highly successful Quiz show The Weakest Link will challenge the football, inevitably splitting viewers in many households.

"I think the Weakest Link versus Premiership coverage is really the battle of whether the man or the woman holds the remote control in the household," says Sunday Times TV writer Stephen Armstrong.

So why did The Two Ronnies, Morecambe and Wise and Are You Being Served? clock up such phenomenal audiences?


I think there is a huge opportunity here to make Saturday television happen

Simon Terrington of Human Capital, media research.

Before you begin to subscribe to the Golden Age of TV myth, remember that audiences were also willing to sit transfixed by Jim'll Fix It season upon season.

Armstrong puts it all down to central heating.

"Back then only one room in the house was heated in winter and the family were forced to gather in front of the TV on a Saturday night."

"We should be grateful that we're out of that time, that we're not stuck in front of awful, racist TV like Love Thy Neighbour or Mind Your Language any more."

Opportunity

Others feel that the programming itself does matter and that more people would stay in to watch if they were offered an alternative.

"I think there is a huge opportunity here to make Saturday television happen," says Terrington.

"There are big television audiences for Friday and Sunday, they're just seen as cooler."

We might mourn the passing of communal family viewing but it seems there is little to be done about it.

"We do so few things as families in Britain any more and TV was the last bastion - but really it hasn't happened like that for years," says Evans.

Perhaps this new-look Saturday night schedule will be the magical formula.

"The truth is that there's been a scratching of broadcasting heads going on for about five years," says Terrington.

"At least now they're making a clear statement for change."

See also:

08 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
Robinson battles Lynam in schedule
03 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
ITV kicks off soccer coverage
08 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
Weakest Link meets Reality TV
12 Nov 00 | Entertainment
Children's favourites honoured
27 Oct 00 | Entertainment
TV king: The Forsyth Saga
08 Aug 01 | Showbiz
Only Fools And Horses to return
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