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Last Updated: Friday, 28 November, 2003, 08:51 GMT
Top of the Pops' all new gamble

By Ian Youngs
BBC News Online entertainment

Music show Top of the Pops has been a fixture in TV schedules for almost 40 years, and is being given a new image in the face of a long-term ratings decline.

Tim Kash
MTV host Tim Kash will be the new face of Top of the Pops
When viewers tune into an hour-long special Top of the Pops on Friday, they will get the first glimpse of its new set, new theme tune, new presenter and new behind-the-scenes slots.

Most of the show will be broadcast live and, to emphasise the fresh start, they will see the programme's new name - All New Top of the Pops.

Top of the Pops has had to change many times to keep up with evolving trends - but this revamp, driven by new executive producer and former presenter Andi Peters, is seen as crucial.

The show is currently watched by about three million people a week - less than half the total it was attracting in the mid-1990s.

With less interest in the singles chart and more music channels on digital and cable TV, it is no longer the must-see music show it was for generations of fans.

Mr Peters has said he wants to cut down on the music and include more gossip, interviews and backstage features.

"Watching 11 performances back-to-back is very passive," he said recently. "These days, people want something more."

He has also spoken about the need to "create an event".

Is it worth all the money they're spending to do it?
Michael Hurll
Former producer
But former producer Michael Hurll, who was in charge throughout the 1980s, said broadcasters often found it hard to recognise when a show was "knackered".

"Top of the Pops has dropped down to three million - that means it's not working," he told BBC News Online.

"Once something's... running out of steam, nothing you do on God's earth is going to make that get any more viewers. Nothing at all."

Mr Hurll said the revamped show needed to get more than five million viewers throughout its first two months to be regarded as a success.

Andi Peters on Top of the Pops
Andi Peters presented the show in the 1990s
But he expected the new look to only improve its ratings by 500,000 in the long term.

"So is it worth all the money they're spending to do it?"

If they are making big changes, Mr Peters should scrap the whole Top of the Pops brand and give it a completely different name, he said.

Being moved to a Friday night in 1996 - opposite Coronation Street on ITV1 - was a major blow for the show's ratings.

Ajax Scott, editor-in-chief of trade magazine Music Week, said the success of the new show would be judged on whether its audience increased.

The jury's out as to whether the format can be made really exciting again
Ajax Scott
Editor, Music Week
"It's always going to be difficult in that Friday slot," he told BBC News Online.

"But it needs to put on viewers - and then, within the BBC and in the music industry, it will be regarded as a success because it will be more influential."

The show needed to regain its excitement, Mr Scott said - which may be done by having artists singing live and clinching big-name exclusives.

"As has been well-documented, it's entered middle age - and when things become middle aged, it's a bit more difficult to give them a real sense of excitement.

"Any programme over time loses that edge," he said.

The show and audience figures would take a few months to settle down, Mr Scott said.

Tony Blackburn on the show in the 1970s
Glory days? Tony Blackburn on the show in the 1970s
"Good luck to him - the programme needs a shot in the arm.

"But the jury's very much out as to whether the format can be made really exciting again."

Although its current ratings seem slim compared with its former glories, Top of the Pops still outstrips its rivals.

ITV1's pop show CD:UK gets about 1.2 million viewers, Channel 4's Smash Hits Chart gets about 700,000 and Popworld hovers above 500,000 per week.

If Top of the Pops' fresh start goes stale and viewing numbers continue to drop, the BBC will be left with a difficult choice.

They could accept that the days when it had no competition from digital and cable channels, the internet and commercial radio are long gone.

Or they could do something more radical, like moving it to a different time slot - away from Coronation Street - or a different channel, such as the youth-dedicated BBC Three.

Otherwise they may be forced to think the unthinkable - that its time could finally be up.

  • All New Top of the Pops, hosted by Tim Kash, is on BBC One from 1900-2000 GMT on Friday, with an extra hour-long special following it on BBC Three.



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