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Monday, 27 August, 2001, 11:19 GMT 12:19 UK
ITV Premiership ratings plunge
Des Lynam, Ally McCoist and Terry Venables
Lynam fronts ITV Premiership coverage
ITV's bid to showcase Premiership football has resulted in what is thought to be its worst Saturday night audience for five years.

Its highlights show was watched by just 3.1 million while BBC One's The Weakest Link quiz show, featuring stand-up comedians, won 6.8 million viewers.

BBC One controller Lorraine Heggessey
Heggessey deliberately timed Weakest Link
BBC One controller Lorraine Heggessey said at the Edinburgh International Television festival that she pitched The Weakest Link against the football because she wanted to offer an alternative.

"I wasn't convinced that a family audience wanted to watch The Premiership," she said.

Lancashire comic Johnny Vegas won the Weakest Link special hosted by Anne Robinson beating off competition from Nina Wadia, Arabella Weir, Rhona Cameron, Helen Lederer and Ed Byrne.

Criticism

Vegas donated his 10,200 prize money to Shopmobility in St Helens and Workers of the Ravenshead Glass Plant.

Meanwhile The Premiership, hosted by former Match of the Day frontman Des Lynam, failed to grab ratings, after being beaten by a Weakest Link special last week as well.

The show, which made its debut last week, had stepped up its football action in response to criticisms that the first show included too many adverts and not enough sport.

ITV executives now insist that the show needs to "settle down".

Johnny Vegas
Comic Vegas won 10,200 on The Weakest Link
They argued that summer viewing is notoriously low and they hope that figures will pick up when United play Saturday fixtures next month.

An ITV spokesman told BBC News Online: "Programmes like this evolve and The Premiership is no different.

"We listen to what the public tell us but we also have the courage of our own convictions."

He said ITV believed the programme started well.

A showing of the Cilla Black fronted programme The Moment of Truth which aired on ITV before Premiership coverage also under-performed.

Peak time

Just 3.2 million watched that, while BBC One coverage of the Edinburgh Tattoo at the same time drew 3.9 million.

In total ITV drew an average of 4 million viewers or 23% of the audience at its peak time, against BBC One's 6.6 million (39%).

Anne Robinson
Robinson "almost smiled" in comic's Weakest Link
ITV screens its main football programme on Saturday evenings at 7pm - a time usually reserved for light entertainment shows such as Blind Date.

It took over from BBC's Match Of The Day when ITV won the rights to show highlights of Premiership games.

But at its first airing last Saturday the show was also beaten in viewing figures by the first of a series of specials of The Weakest Link quiz show.

The "reality TV" special pulled 2.4m viewers more than The Premiership.

The Premiership show is part of a package of Premiership soccer programmes ITV has planned, after paying 183m for the rights over three years.

The BBC will continue to show the action from FA Cup and England international matches.

See also:

19 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
Weakest Link trounces Premiership
08 Feb 01 | Entertainment
Soccer theme is stars' goal
16 Nov 00 | Sports Personality
Des Lynam
03 Aug 99 | UK
ITV signs Des Lynam
17 Aug 00 | Match of the Day
History of Match of the Day
09 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
Saturday night TV fever
24 Aug 01 | TV and Radio
ITV 'adding more sport' to Premiership
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