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Last Updated: Sunday, 26 December, 2004, 05:12 GMT
2004 on the airwaves
Mark Thompson
Mark Thompson took over at the BBC during 2004
Ten years from now, when broadcasting historians look back at 2004, it may be what took place outside the studios which will seem more important.

The BBC's director general Greg Dyke left the corporation following the Hutton Report. Enter Mark Thompson, fresh from a stint at Channel 4, on a mission to make the BBC leaner and meaner as it geared up to apply for a new charter.

Filling Mark Thompson's seat at Channel 4 was Andy Duncan, who had to wrestle with the question of just how his network would pay its way in a future full of competing channels. A merger with Five was considered - and thrown out.

While at ITV, most of the network's individual companies were finally joined together as one company. As with the BBC, job cuts and political wrangling are on the cards as the new firm prepares for its digital future.

And in radio, commercial giants Capital and GWR are gearing up to merge - creating a chain of 55 local stations, of the kind never seen before in the UK.

Reality titans

There were few clues to all of this on air, though - it was strictly business as usual.

Kerry McFadden
Kerry McFadden was ITV's queen of the jungle in February 2004
Critics still scoffed, but viewers still turned on in droves for reality TV titans I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! and Big Brother 5.

Kerry McFadden and Joe Pasquale saw their celebrity stock rise in ITV's jungle, while Big Brother definitely packed a punch as a violent row broke out three weeks into the show's run.

Reality TV still has a hold on viewers - but producers are getting wary of overkill, despite Five hitting the publicity jackpot with tabloid favourite Rebecca Loos, a pig, and The Farm.

But Big Brother winner Nadia Almada's plans for world domination stumbled when her debut single limped into the chart at number 27, while ratings for Joe Pasquale's I'm A Celebrity victory in December were down on Kerry McFadden's triumph in February.

King of the soaps

Natasha Kaplinsky, Bruce Forsyth, and Tess Daly
Strictly Come Dancing revived Bruce Forsyth's career
Coronation Street came out as the undisputed king of the soaps thanks to a series of strong storylines, while EastEnders faltered as viewers struggled to care about the Slaters, the Fowlers, and the ill-fated Ferreiras, and sniggered at revelations of Leslie Grantham's webcam antics in the Sunday newspapers.

Things got so bad that EastEnders was crushed in the ratings when it went up against an extended Emmerdale.

But the BBC hit Saturday night gold in Strictly Come Dancing, reviving both an age-old format and the career of Bruce Forsyth - three years after he walked out on ITV, fearing he was being marginalised.

Now it's ITV that's inspired by Forsyth's show - with Torvill and Dean to front a celebrity ice dance show for ITV, titled Stars on Thin Ice.

But ITV was pleased enough with talent show The X Factor to commission a second series - despite Simon Fuller complaining that it was a straight copy of Pop Idol.

A different kind of real-life story attracted millions to BBC Two - Who Do You Think You Are? followed famous faces as they tracked down their family histories, and encouraged viewers to do the same.

Sporting hits

Euro 2004 football and the Olympics proved once again the pulling power of sport - although it was viewers in the Middle East who heard Ron Atkinson's fateful criticism of Chelsea's Marcel Desailly after a Champions League game, which led to him resigning from ITV in disgrace.

The corner shop explodes in Coronation Street
Coronation Street had an explosive 2004
Sky One scored with reality football show The Match, and followed it up by commissioning supernatural drama, Hex, starring Christina Cole as a schoolgirl who discovers she has supernatural powers.

But there was enough action on the other digital channels to give Sky One the spooks too - BBC Three's Flashmob: The Opera didn't quite live up to its billing, but the sight of football fans singing at each other in London's Paddington station was one of the year's oddest.

But Little Britain cemented its status as BBC Three's biggest hit to date by transferring to BBC One - albeit with some of its edgier moments smoothed out.

ITV launched ITV3, while shopping channel Auctionworld went into administration following a 450,000 fine from Ofcom.

Super Bowl row

US TV saw the end of Frasier - and life after Friends as spin-off show Joey made a successful start.

But it found itself in uncertain waters after Janet Jackson's nipple exposure during the Super Bowl. CBS was landed with a $550,000 fine - and its rivals were wary about incurring the wrath of the regulator.

Howard Stern
Howard Stern plans to leave mainstream US radio
Shock jock pioneer Howard Stern's reaction was to hand in his notice, announcing he was joining a satellite radio network which was free from the controls of the watchdog.

UK radio was stunned by John Peel's untimely death in October, after he suffered a heart attack in Peru. The range - and huge number - of tributes paid to one of BBC Radio 1's founders proved he would be remembered as more than just a patron of new music.

Longtime BBC Radio 2 stalwart John Dunn also passed away, while Blue Peter presenter Caron Keating lost her seven-year battle with breast cancer.

The new year will see a new incarnation for Top of the Pops, moving to Sundays BBC Two after the failure of Andi Peters' "All New..." revamp of 2003. It will be tied into the announcement of the main Top 40 singles chart - which itself will be revamped on Radio 1 under rising stars JK & Joel.

And while behind the scenes British broadcasting is in the throes of a tough time, those behind it will be hoping the strain will not show to viewers in a tough year ahead.


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