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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK
Honours even in ratings war
Richard Wilson and Annette Crosbie
Victory: One Foot in the Grave beat ITV
The great ratings battle between BBC One's new schedule and ITV ended all square on Monday night, with victories for both channels.

It was the first time that the BBC's main evening news was broadcast at 10pm.

Sitcoms One Foot In The Grave and The Royle Family were scheduled against ITV's Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? in the old news slot at 9pm.

The Royle Family
Record ratings for The Royle Family
In the end, grouchy pensioner Victor Meldrew saw off the threat of slick quiz host Chris Tarrant - averaging 10.2m against 9.4m during the first half of Millionaire.

But ITV struck back - as Millionaire then beat The Royle Family, which took 8.4m, peaking at 8.5m at 2145 BST. The quiz show peaked at 11.1m at the same time, giving it an average figure of 10.2m.

However, The Royle Family's figures equal its highest ever audience.

The provisional overnight figures also show the BBC's new Ten O'Clock News took an average of 5.9m, against the ITV debut of Frank Skinner's comedy show, which took 7.1m overall.

Chris Tarrant
Chris Tarrant: Millionaire drafted in to fight ITV's corner
But the figures for Skinner's show disguise a huge drop in viewers - from 8.2m to 6m - in the first 15 minutes of his show.

The programme switched to ITV after the BBC broke off contract negotations with Skinner, with then-director of television Alan Yentob blaming his management's "unreasonable tactics and financial terms".

He had attracted over 10m viewers on BBC One.

However, ITV bosses are delighted with Coronation Street's performance. The veteran soap pulled in 15.1m viewers - 63% of the watching public - at 1930 BST.

Overall, this helped ITV to a 36.3% share of the audience between 1830 and 2230 BST.

BBC One's 32.8% was 3.4% ahead of its average share so far this year.

Controllers happy

The figures gave controllers at both channels something to smile about.

Lorraine Heggessey, who took over as BBC One controller on Monday, said: "I couldn't have asked for a better first night."

BBC director of television Mark Thompson said: "Although it's early days in a very long game, it's encouraging that a significant number of viewers will tune in for the news at 10 o'clock, more than would have done an hour previously."

Anne Robinson
String link: Anne Robinson rarely smiles in The Weakest Link
He said the new-look schedule was "BBC One at its best".

An ITV spokesman said: "Despite BBC One bringing out its biggest guns for the biggest night in 30 years, ITV was still ahead.

"We're pleased that even on a night like last night, ITV remains Britain's favourite channel."

The ratings battle is set to run and run - with BBC One scheduling Will Smith's film Men In Black on Tuesday night at 2030 BST, against The Bill and a repeat of A Touch Of Frost on ITV.

Looking further ahead, Anne Robinson's successful daytime quiz The Weakest Link is to make its BBC One debut as part of the new look.

The quiz, currently running on BBC Two on weekday afternoons, sees contestants vote against each other to win a potential 10,000 prize, while Robinson decries their efforts and sneers at evicted contestants as "the weakest link".

The extra BBC One series will be dubbed "The Champions' League", and it will feature former winners of the show returning to pit their wits against each other - and their sardonic host.

The series - which is in addition to the regular daytime run - begins in two weeks, although its place in the schedule has yet to be confirmed, a spokeswoman told BBC News Online.

See also:

16 Oct 00 | Entertainment
News move sparks ratings battle
04 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Meldrew leads BBC ratings charge
15 Oct 00 | UK
Have I got moves for you?
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