Part One

Barney Green takes on ITV

First published August 2001

I don’t watch ITV. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no √©litist. It’s just that – football and Coronation Street aside – there’s nothing for me on the network.

So I wasn’t overjoyed at being allocated ITV to reschedule. And I had such big plans for the other channels, too. Like a nascent Matthew Bannister or Michael Jackson, I was going to totally rip up the schedules. Herds of BBC1′s sacred cows were destined for the slaughterhouse. I was going to make a bonfire of Jane Root’s Ikea television or revitalise Channel 4. Hell, I even had some plans for Channel 5. But ITV? ITV exists to make money. That’s a fact and not one I have a problem with. But it made my task more difficult, I believed, than everyone else’s. ITV lives and dies in the ratings battlefield, and with exocets like Coronation Street, Emmerdale, Heartbeat, ‘Millionaire and Frost in my arsenal, there didn’t seem to be much point in making radical changes.

And even though I rarely watched them, it was undeniable that most of ITV’s bankers were actually – well – pretty good. Since Greg Dyke started to gently nudge the network upmarket in the late ’80s, ITV has practically had a monopoly on quality popular drama, from The Darling Buds of May to Cracker. Unlike BBC1, there weren’t many rusty patches in the schedule in need of urgent repair, and if it ain’t broke …

But I couldn’t take my seat at the controllers’ table armed with just that week’s copy of Radio Times. I had to set myself a different task, but still playing the game for real – and I later found out some of my fellow controllers decided not to. So to keep my shareholders happy, I had to stick with the winning formula (so the dreadful Emmerdale stayed) but cut myself some slack to weed out the trash (your P45, Miss Riley). I set myself the challenge of bringing in new, younger viewers, and making ITV a more consistent, logical channel. And I had to schedule Premiership football, tackle the black hole of teatimes and resolve once and for all what to do with the news. Perhaps it wasn’t going to be that simple after all.