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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 July, 2003, 06:53 GMT 07:53 UK
TV's fight for Saturday success

by Chris Heard
BBC News Online entertainment staff

The fight is on to win the hearts and minds of TV viewers as the BBC's Fame Academy eyes Pop Idol's Saturday night crown.

The BBC's talent show is moving to Saturday night for its second series, which begins next weekend.

Sinead Quinn, Fame Academy
Fame Academy grew into a ratings success
But it is parked firmly in the time slot used by Pop Idol in 2001 - and the ITV1 show is due to return two weeks after.

The potential clash comes amid record low Saturday night audiences for ITV - and the BBC's admission that it is struggling to find a winning format for its teatime slot.

ITV1 is still feeling the loss of Blind Date, while the BBC would love to find this decade's answer to Noel's House Party or The Generation Game.

Saturday early evening TV: 19 July, 2003
BBC One: The Vicar of Dibley, The Weakest Link
ITV1: Film: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Instead, BBC One is soldiering on with repeats of The Vicar of Dibley and one-off specials of Weakest Link - while ITV's offering this Saturday is a Jurassic Park film from 1997.

Pop Idol has been one of ITV1's biggest-ever shows, averaging 7.6 million viewers and pulling in more than 13 million for its final.

Saturday early evening TV 15 years ago: 16 July, 1988
BBC One: News, World Rock 'N' Roll Trophy (dance event presented by Joe Brown)
ITV: Film: The Incredible Hulk
The Popstars spin-off, featuring legendarily rude putdowns of contestants from judge Simon Cowell, breathed new life into Saturday night TV.

When the BBC responded with its own take on the idea, Fame Academy, more than five million regularly tuned in - on Friday nights.

Saturday early evening TV 20 years ago: 23 July, 1983
BBC One: Blake's Seven (sci-fi series), Film: The Pink Panther
ITV: Happy Days (US comedy series), The Fall Guy (US drama series), Just Amazing (stunt show)

ITV executives may feel they have good reason to be miffed at the BBC's scheduling: last Saturday's ITV1 ratings slumped to their lowest ever, with no more than 3.9 million viewers tuning in during prime time.

ITV has been home to some of the biggest-hitting Saturday shows of the last few years, among them Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, Stars In Their Eyes and Saturday Night Takeaway starring Ant and Dec.

Saturday early evening TV 30 years ago: 21 July, 1973
BBC One: News, The Amazing Chinese Acrobats (circus act), Dad's Army
ITV: The Julie Andrews Show, The Protectors (action series), The Rolf Harris Show
However, ITV's spokeswoman was bullish about its prospects, telling BBC News Online: "ITV has had all of the highest-rated programmes this year, and the ratings for Pop Idol and Fame Academy are miles apart.

"Our only concern is that as public service broadcasters, it's common sense not to have similar formats in the same slot - in the interest of the viewers."

She put the network's recent viewing slump down to the good weather and people going on holiday.

Gareth Gates, Pop Idol
Pop Idol became the format to beat
Generally, she said, ratings were falling as viewers chose from a plethora of digital channels and alternative leisure pursuits.

Meanwhile, BBC director general Greg Dyke conceded this week that his programme makers faced "a challenge" in finding the right teatime programme for Saturdays.

Last weekend, The Weakest Link - which went out at 1800 - had 3.2 million viewers, while prank show Just for Laughs one hour later fared little better with 3.9 million.

Oh bring back the days of Basil Brush, followed by Dr Who and Jim'll Fix It
Bob Watson, Spain

BBC One's spokeswoman said: "We haven't been doing brilliantly. It's something we've been upfront about.

"We haven't found a breakthrough format. It doesn't have to be a light entertainment show from a studio, followed by another light entertainment show from a studio."

The BBC says it has switched Fame Academy in order to best reach its target audience of 16-34-year-olds. It insists there is "room for both" programmes.

Whether it will turn into the kind of success that answers its Saturday night prayers, however, remains to be seen.

Fame Academy to return
02 May 03  |  Entertainment
Henman blamed for ITV slump
30 Jun 03  |  Entertainment
ITV reschedules flop drama
10 Jul 03  |  Entertainment
Pop Idols: Where are they now?
21 May 03  |  Entertainment
Ant and Dec set for US screens
11 Jul 03  |  Entertainment


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