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Monday, November 8, 1999 Published at 12:09 GMT


Gloves off for ratings showdown

After Hours: Vikram Desai (Chris Bisson) has a familiar face in his van

The latest round in the fight for Britain's TV viewers has begun - with Chris Tarrant's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? taking on the BBC's ratings-topping Walking With Dinosaurs.

The award-winning quiz is part of a new drive by ITV to try to get back to the top of the TV ratings - after its shows such as Coronation Street and Heartbeat were beaten by the BBC's EastEnders as well as the natural history epic.

TV executives will be looking forward to seeing early viewing figures from Monday evening's clash - which saw Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? scheduled directly against the final instalment of Walking With Dinosaurs, which came top of the most recent TV ratings with nearly 18 million viewers.

[ image: Millionaire man: Chris Tarrant spearheads the ratings charge]
Millionaire man: Chris Tarrant spearheads the ratings charge
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? is not the only weapon ITV is aiming at the BBC's current ratings success - After Hours, a spin-off from Coronation Street, is running every night this week at 2200.

Former Street star Julie Goodyear - Rovers Return landlady Bet Gilroy - returns for the special episodes, which see Steve McDonald and Vikram Desai (Simon Gregson and East Is East actor Chris Bisson) making an illegal tobacco run from Weatherfield to Calais.

Reg Holdsworth - played by Ken Morley - also features, as does Steve's former wife Vicky (Chloe Newsome).

But the BBC is unconcerned by the threat. A spokeswoman said: "The BBC is in the business of range, not ratings. We have never been interested in these ratings wars.

"ITV have to attract big audiences to satisfy their advertisers. The BBC is more interested in providing a range of quality programmes for all viewers."

[ image: The rover returns: Julie Goodyear joins the Street spin-off]
The rover returns: Julie Goodyear joins the Street spin-off
An ITV spokeswoman said the week was aimed at attracting revenue from advertisers during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

She said that although the network is happy with its audience figures as they stand, the pre-Christmas period was important for getting advertisers as well as viewers.

The BBC spokeswoman offered a further explanation. "Although they are high-profile shows, they are also reasonably cheap to make, which will help increase their end-of-year profits," she said.

But both broadcasters are happy to use their soaps as ammunition in the battle for viewers.

[ image: EastEnders star Tamzin Outhwaite: Up against the football next week]
EastEnders star Tamzin Outhwaite: Up against the football next week
Coronation Street appears in ITV's Saturday night line-up this weekend - up against the BBC's new entertainment show, Red Alert.

Hosted by 1960s pop star Lulu, the music-based show includes the National Lottery draw and has Sir Paul McCartney as its first guest. It is produced by Chris Evans' company, Ginger Media Group.

The BBC denied reports it would re-schedule Red Alert, saying it would "go ahead exactly as billed" at 1915.

Meanwhile, ITV is crying foul after the BBC scheduled an extra episode of EastEnders on Wednesday 17 November - at the same time as ITV is showing the England and Scotland's Euro 2000 play-off from Wembley.

The BBC said it was "an alternative for non-sports fans".

But ITV said: "This can only be bad for British TV viewers. The England-Scotland game will be a major national event, and it's a shame that the BBC are planning to use EastEnders in a ratings battle with ITV's coverage of the match."

ITV will be hoping to top the 23.8 million viewers who saw the Argentina-England match during the 1998 World Cup.

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