Five More Years

Ian Jones updates OTT’s TV24 for 2005

First published April 2005

When OTT settled down to watch 24 hours of terrestrial television on Thursday 9 March 2000, the hope was to capture as much of the flavour of contemporary TV as a snapshot would allow. By selecting a random 24 hours, the intention was to record not just the memorable but the mundane; to document not only the programmes but all the clutter in-between, the bits usually overlooked or taken for granted. Everything, in other words, that was part and parcel of a TV channel going about its normal business.

One element that was missing, however, was any sense of a wider context. No real attention was paid to where everything fitted into the grand scheme of things, because that wasn’t the point. By definition, TV24 was a case study: TV close-up, exactly as OTT found it. So to get a better sense of how the telly of 9 March 2000 fared from a different perspective, a subsequent article compared the programmes of that day with those on the same day in 1995, ’90, ’85 and ’80.

Now, on the fifth anniversary of TV24, there’s the chance to approach the project from a third angle, and instead of tracing the story backwards, to extend it forwards. How does the TV of 2000 contrast with that on the same day in 2005? Which channels have improved, got worse, or stayed pretty much unscathed? And were all those conclusions and assumptions in the original articles uncannily prophetic or way off the mark?

This article follows the pattern adopted by “The Long and Winding Road”, hence rather than a date-to-date comparison with 9 March 2000, it’s the Thursday that falls nearest to the original, in this case 10 March 2005, which is under the spotlight. So settling back down to enjoy another 24 hours of terrestrial TV, how does the land lie after five more years?

I continue to believe that it is my right to express my views, however uncomfortable they may be”

First off it’s clear that BBC1 has undergone the most dramatic transformation. Its daytime schedule is completely different to that of 2000; indeed, it’s been subject to the kind of nuts-and-bolts overhaul not seen on British telly since the late 1980s. It isn’t until 1pm that we reach the first programme to have survived since 2000 – and even that’s only the News.

Kicking off the day at 6am is Breakfast. March 2000 found BBC Breakfast News still soldiering on in this slot, but as it would turn out not for long. Only a few weeks later the Beeb announced a shake-up of its early morning output and its intention to screen the same breakfast programme simultaneously on BBC1 and BBC News 24. Sure enough Breakfast News bowed out a few months later ahead of the Olympics, and on Monday 2 October its replacement began. Utilising the same hosts as its predecessor didn’t make for the most high profile of starts for Breakfast, and it wasn’t really until Jeremy Bowen and Sophie Raworth were replaced with Dermot Murnaghan and Natasha Kaplinksy in autumn 2002 that the show hit its stride. 2005 finds both at the peak of their ubiquity, if not their game, with Kaplinksy in particular being called upon by the Beeb to front all sorts of extra-curricular activity thanks (literally) to her turns on Strictly Come Dancing.

Breakfast is not only a superior effort to Breakfast News, it’s also longer. Today it finishes at 9.30am, but up until the start of 2004 it had always disappeared at 9am to make way for Kilroy. Its forerunner had done the same since back in the early 1990s. All of this was to change, however, when a column appeared in the Sunday Express of 4 January 2004 under Robert Kilroy-Silk’s name in which the talk show host declared that Arab states “murdered more than 3,000 civilians on 11th September and then danced in the hot, dusty streets to celebrate”. The man continued by describing how “despotic, barbarous and corrupt Arab states” were populated by “suicide bombers”, “limb amputators” and “women repressors”.

There was an immediate outcry, somewhat undermined by the discovery that the exact same column had appeared in the Sunday Express the previous year without provoking any comment, and had only turned up again thanks to – it was claimed by an unapologetic Kilroy-Silk – a printing error. Nonetheless, after a few days of fevered consultation, BBC1 Controller Lorraine Heggessey decided to pull his show from the schedules. What would turn out to be the last ever edition went out on Friday 9 January 2004, and precisely one week later the Corporation announced Kilroy-Silk was quitting his erstwhile stamping ground for good.

“I believe this is the right moment to leave the programme and concentrate my energies in other directions,” the man proclaimed. “I have been overwhelmed by the support from the general public, and I continue to believe that it is my right to express my views, however uncomfortable they may be. However, I recognise the difficulties this has caused the BBC, and I believe my decision is the right way to resolve the situation.”

So after 15 series and 17 years as part of BBC1′s daytime line-up, the former Labour MP turned self-appointed counsellor to the nation took his leave. But this wasn’t to be a complete parting of the ways. As BBC Director of Television Jana Bennett revealed, “The BBC is working towards a new version of the topical discussion programme returning to BBC1 in the next few weeks. The programme will continue to be produced by the team at the Kilroy Television Company Ltd.”

This turned out to be Now You’re Talking!, which began on Monday 15 March. Everything was stacked against this son-of-Kilroy succeeding: its reduced running time of 30 minutes, its disorganised rotation of hosts (Nicky Campbell, Nadia Sawalha, “guest presenters” to be confirmed), its appalling title, and the fact that its producer, Kilroy-Silk, was still in the public eye, now busy fashioning a career as a prospective UK Independence Party Euro MP. “We can do a wider range of subjects because not everything can go to a full hour. It’s better for the daytime audience,” Sawalha pleaded desperately, but sure enough the entire enterprise proved more trouble that it was worth. The final edition of Now You’re Talking! went out precisely three months later on Tuesday 15 June.

Since then, the BBC have steered clear of any attempt at a daytime talk show. It seems the Corporation is now happy to permanently surrender that territory to its rivals. Indeed, whenKilroy was dropped and Breakfast hurriedly extended to 9.30am, it immediately scored higher ratings for that last half hour than Kilroy-Silk had done for a long time. By disposing of its one remaining relic from its original daytime line-up, the Beeb actually found itself with a chance to roll out its strongest morning schedules for decades.

So it is that Thursday 10 March 2005 finds two of BBC1′s big hitters, Bargain Hunt and Cash in the Attic, more than holding their own against This Morning on ITV1. They’re preceded by the similarly spirited Homes Under the Hammer and To Buy or Not to Buy, adding up to three solid hours of reliable lifestyle entertainment. Of course if you don’t like this kind of fare you’ve pretty much had it, especially as today’s terrestrial alternatives comprise This Morning, a film and schools programmes. All the same, this slab of output frankly seems a more practical use of this part of the day than BBC1 has attempted in the past. It’s also a far cry from such endeavours as 2003′s The Morning Show, the Beeb’s last try (to date) at a This Morningcopycat, featuring Nicki Chapman and Robert Nesbitt joylessly talking about immigration quotas.

The one exception is Jeremy Vine Meets …, part of a week of awkward semi-informal interviews between the titular journalist and his “favourite” celebrities. Today Jeremy treats Sheila Hancock to a run down of his pet obsessions, to little consequence. Previous occupants of this slot have included social action-styled efforts like Beat the Burglar and Missing.

“I know in my heart that it’s time for a change”

It’s a shame there’s not room in BBC1′s entire daytime schedule for even one quiz. 2000′ stalwarts Wipeout and Going for a Song are now nowhere to be seen, and with Bob Monkhouse having sadly passed away in December 2003 and Anne Robinson content to go on churning out hundreds of editions of The Weakest Link it’s difficult to see either show ever returning. Neighbours still follows the 1pm News, today boasting the long-awaited return of Paul Robinson. Then it’s the hugely successful Doctors, launched to little publicity on Monday 27 March 2000 but now one of the most-watched programmes of the afternoon.

“We have not had original drama on daytime for years but this is a quality series,” explained Jane Lush, the BBC’s head of daytime, on the show’s debut. “What we are doing is offering an alternative to ITV’s schedule.” Its fortunes make for a marked contrast with ITV1′s woeful attempts at daytime drama since 2000: Crossroads, relaunched first as a humdrum character ensemble, which was a big flop, then again as a gay soap, which was an even bigger flop; and the weirdly scheduled and over-hyped Night and DayDoctors had a similarly shaky start, but having initially aired at 12.30pm it now feels right at home in its post-Neighbours slot. Murder, She Wrote then fulfils the same function as Quincy in 2000 by taking up what’s left of the schedule until Children’s BBC.

Overall this feels a far more confident and coherent daytime line-up than that to be found on BBC1 five years ago. By contrast, ITV1′s offerings are identical right up to 1pm. GMTV has continued its tenancy at breakfast and looks set to do so for some time yet. Today it’s Ben Shephard and Kate Garraway helming the sofa while soon-to-be-departed Eamonn Holmes takes another of his many holidays. Lorraine Kelly is still there for the last leg, however, albeit now called LK Today and opening 15 minutes earlier than 2000′s Lorraine.

The rest of the morning is once more taken up with Trisha and This Morning, but the latter is a shadow of its former indomitable self. After Madeley and Finnegan hosted their last show onThursday 12 July 2001, This Morning went through a period of purgatory, first attempting to re-model itself around a demented line-up including Twiggy and Coleen Nolan, then suffering from the tabloid exploits of John Leslie. Current hosts Phillip Schofield and Fern Britton are capable enough, but you feel Phil deserves more than just a show which today comes live from the Ideal Home Exhibition and boasts “star guests” X Factor-losers G4.

Trisha, meanwhile, is soon to be no more. On Monday 24 January 2005 its host launched a new series on five entitled, unexpectedly, Trisha Goddard. “I’ve had six fantastic years at ITV,” the eponymous presenter affirmed when news of her transfer broke, “and been fortunate enough to work with some great people. However, emotional upheaval can make one re-evaluate one’s life, and I know in my heart that it’s time for a change.” The only reason she’s still to be found on ITV1 on this day is thanks to a limited pile of stockpiled shows taped before her defection. Suffice to say these leftovers are currently pulling in as least twice as many viewers as her five efforts, and it’ll be fascinating to see what if anything manages to make a new home in this vital post-GMTV spot later in the year. A month of UK-based Jerry Springer shows is, apparently, already in the pipeline.

ITV are no stranger to losing things to five. Home and Away was snaffled from under their noses in 2000 and launched on its new channel on Monday 16 July 2001 – just four days after the network bid farewell to Richard and Judy. The slot formerly occupied by the residents of Summer Bay is now, in 2005, home to the first of ITV1′s post lunchtime news lifestyle offerings,Everything Must Go! Up until Friday 17 December 2004 Today with Des and Mel held court at this hour, but the pair now sit at 5pm to compete head on with C4′s Richard and Judy. Instead we have to make do with a care worker raising money to take members of her local charity centre to the Lake District. It’s almost as if ITV1 can’t be bothered, and while it’s a step up fromLoose Women this and its successors pull in some of the third channel’s lowest ratings of the entire day. I Want That House Revisited and Boot Sale Treasure Hunt try and ape BBC1′s earlier wall of lifestyle, but can’t hope to compete against Neighbours and Doctors. They smack of simply plugging a gap until a regional news bulletin at 3pm and the arrival of Children’s ITV15 minutes later.

The third channel’s attempts at cheery lifestyle endeavours also run afoul of BBC2′s own lifestyle parade, which just happens to turn up at exactly the same time. From 1.30pm onwards there’s a whole succession of shows - The Flying Gardener, Feather Your NestHouse InvadersCastle in the Country and Flog It! - which conspire to carry BBC2 through the afternoon with ease. Once again it makes for precious little variety, but probably stands a greater chance of retaining viewers than the more pot pourri-styled daytime schedules of old. In 2000 BBC2 spent the afternoon tackling painting (Awash With Colour), politics (Westminster Live) and pontificating (Esther): the sort of line-up that could have fitted snugly into any point from the last 15 years.

While today’s roster of afternoon shows datestamps BBC2 firmly in the 21st century, it actually makes for the only real divergence from the daytime schedule this channel offered us in 2000. Coverage of Parliament has merely shifted to the morning (a move brought in to reflect the change in Westminster’s own opening hours) and the age old lunchtime appointment with a children’s programme has been rendered irrelevant by the swathe of kids’ output that now runs uninterrupted from 6am all the way to 10.30am. Here’s where the growth of digital TV first makes itself felt in our survey. Programmes from 6 – 8am go under the umbrella CBBC, and those from 8 – 10.30am CBeebies: both sharing names with their respective digital cousins, and both encouraging eager audiences to switch to those channels once terrestrial transmissions are over.

The 60 minutes of schools’ programmes is a reduction of one hour and 40 minutes on 2000 (though on other days this week they clock in at over two hours), but Working Lunch is still present and correct at 12.30pm and Ready Steady Cook at 4.30pm. The only idiosyncrasy isThe Munsters at 1pm, presumably playing the time-honoured role of stooge to the lunchtimeNews on BBC1. As with the morning on BBC1, so the afternoon on BBC2 revolves entirely around shows that build and keep audiences, climaxing with The Weakest Link at 5.15pm and a programme that continues to outrun all opposition in its slot.

“News in an entertainment wrapper”

If daytime BBC2 has weathered the five years pretty much unchanged, the opposite’s true of five – not even its name remains the same. That great quintet of imported Americana which dominated this day in 2000 - The Roseanne ShowThe Bold and the BeautifulBeauty and the BeastLeeza and The Oprah Winfrey Show - has vanished. Similarly there’s no sign of Open House with Gloria Hunniford, which ended its regal run in January 2003. Taking their place are, in order, The Wright Stuff, a morning feature film, Home and Away, an hour of interactive riddle-me-ree games, and Trisha Goddard.

The Wright Stuff is clearly five’s flagship show; there’s even a Five’s Company-style “update” just before the news at 12pm. It kicks off the morning at 9am and today boasts Michael Howard as special guest, part of five’s season of meet-the-leader initiatives which – as we’ll see – involve turning over a significant portion of the day’s schedule to shows involving one of Britain’s main politicians. But The Wright Stuff has had something of a convoluted history. The first edition went out on Monday 11 September 2000, produced by Anglia TV. Its titular host was always intended to be the show’s main focus. “Matthew has already proved he is a first-class tabloid journalist,” explained Chris Shaw, five’s then controller of news and current affairs, “and this programme will show what a perfect TV talent he has as well.” Filmed live at Anglia’s Norwich studios, The Wright Stuff quickly proved to be as much a bear pit as talk show, yet was a moderate success and at least a great deal more lively than the channel’s entire daytime output to date.

In November 2001, however, the then-director of programmes Kevin Lygo promptly axed the show claiming it was too expensive. “It wasn’t commercially viable for us to continue our contract with Granada [who now owned Anglia TV],” a spokesperson claimed. “We were making each show at a loss,” an insider confirmed. Then one month later an abrupt U-turn saw the show revived by Princess Productions with exactly the same name and host. The Wright Stuff returned in January 2002, and has since been through numerous revamps and time changes, at one point ballooning to an overwhelming 90 minutes. Perhaps its most important function remains, along with the hour of soap at lunchtime (Home and Away at 12.30pm, Family Affairs at 1pm), to anchor five’s daytime schedule and provide some once all-too-rare stability. The same is true of breakfast time, where the channel have finally jettisoned all pretence at providing a regular news-based show and now screens kids’ programmes right through from 6am to 9am.

At one point in the last five years Princess Productions were turning out high profile daily shows for both Channel 4 and five. But while their five effort quickly became a permanent fixture in the schedules, their C4 endeavour ranked as one of the biggest disasters in TV history. Just four months after taking over The Wright Stuff, Princess launched C4′s new breakfast programme: RI:SE. Chief presenter Mark Durden-Smith began the first edition on Monday 29 April 2002 by promising, “no puppets, dancing girls or whooping crew members” – a lazy pop at the show’s predecessor, The Big Breakfast, which was already ailing in 2000 but took until Friday 29 March 2002 to die. RI:SE was to be “news in an entertainment wrapper”, but it didn’t do either at all well and proceeded to get through three editors, seven presenters and two relaunches in nine months. A show that was regularly beaten in the ratings by all four of its terrestrial rivals (including five), which resorted to hiring Iain Lee and Big Brother winner Kate Lawler as hosts, and even set up camp in a shopping precinct to try and appear more “fresh”, was always doomed to fail. Sure enough C4 director of programmes Tim Gardam announced its demise in September 2003, claiming “we reluctantly concede that RI:SE is not going to grow a sufficient audience to justify it continuing into a third year.”

The last edition went out on Friday 19 December 2003, since when C4 have simply run repeats and imports at breakfast time. Today’s line-up makes a token gesture to kids in the shape ofThe Hoobs, but then idles through a batch of glossy sitcoms including – inevitably - Friends andWill & Grace. Some music videos and the travelogue Coach Trip complete the most ineffectual breakfast line-up ever seen on British TV. It’s a shameless cop-out, and an admission that C4 simply can’t think of anything new or exciting to put in this once much-prized slot.

“It is a great British institution and we love it”

The rest of C4′s daytime boasts more of a flavour of 2000. Schools’ programmes run up to midday as before, but now billed as individual shows in their own right and not gathered together in a strand. The long-running 12pm political talking shop Powerhouse ended abruptly on Monday 17 March 2003 when ITN introduced its dramatically-titled News – War Report. When ground hostilities in Iraq ended, however, C4 decided to retain a straightforward bulletin in the slot. As such News at Noon has now become a regular fixture, and a sensible one: it steals a crafty march on both the BBC and ITV’s lunchtime news round-ups.

Richard and Judy’s arrival on C4 at 5pm on Monday 26 November 2001 was a justifiable coup and soon triggered an overhaul of the channel’s entire teatime strategy. Countdown had already been extended to 45 minutes a couple of months earlier, but was then contentiously bumped back to 3.15pm in September 2003 to rally C4′s mid-afternoon ratings. It still doesn’t feel right at such an hour, but remains reassuringly unruffled and has now been recommissioned to run until 2009. “The fact that it continues to draw the highest share of viewing in the channel’s daytime schedule is testament to the sheer energy, professionalism and commitment of Richard, Carol and the rest of the Countdown production team,” beamed C4′s head of daytime recently. “It is a great British institution and we love it.” Fittingly, it’s Richard Stilgoe who dwells in today’s Dictionary Corner.

While nothing else really matches the peaks of Richards Whiteley and Madeley, the rest of C4′s afternoon weaves happily between the obligatory black and white film (a staple of the channel since its birth) and the familiarly vocational fare of A Place by the SeaHouse Auctionand Coach Trip. C4 began spending its afternoons in the company of lifestyle programmes long before the BBC or ITV followed suit, but today it makes for a worthwhile contrast to the earnest histrionics of BBC2 and the kids’ programmes which have now shown up on BBC1 and ITV1.

Children’s BBC mixes the traditional (Stuart LittleChuckleVisionNewsround) with more contemporary efforts (cartoon The Cramp Twins, amusing comedy drama Even Stevens). There’s also a real treat, thanks to it being Comic Relief week, in the shape of Comic Relief in Da Bungalow. Dick and Dom invite celebrities into their domain for a memorable half hour of inventive mayhem at 4.30pm, then resume – in an inspired move – at 6pm on BBC2. In responseChildren’s ITV performs far better than it did in 2000, with Thomas and FriendsMr Bean: The Animated Series and SpongeBob SquarePants all good fun, followed by one-time BBC stapleRugrats and the seemingly never ending My Parents are Aliens. Finally at 5pm ITV1 hands over to Des O’Connor and Melanie Sykes. The pair’s easy chat and star guests somehow worked far better at the original, more leisurely hour of 1pm than this new, more competitive, bustling slot, but they’re undoubtedly giving Richard and Judy a run for their money. They’re also by far the best thing ITV has screened at teatime for decades.

“Quite frankly, who couldn’t?”

The arrival of primetime finds another burst of major changes compared to 2000. The shape of BBC1′s evening is entirely different, thanks chiefly to Greg Dyke’s decision to move the main news from 9pm to 10pm as of Monday 16 October 2000. There is now no longer the obvious junction point that the Beeb used to rely on to separate its largely family-orientated comedy and drama from more ambitious, selective fare. Instead 9pm finds A Life of Grime, New Yorkawkwardly straddling the divide, bracketed by two hefty doses of Comic Relief Does Fame Academy. Previous Thursdays had seen 90 minutes of Judge John Deed at 8pm, a hallmark of BBC1′s Dyke-led concentration on quality drama.

Watchdog preceded EastEnders in 2000; today it’s the last ever Wildlife on OneHolby Cityhas shifted from Thursdays to Tuesdays, while the 10pm news means Question Time has actually moved forward in the schedule from 10.50pm to 10.35pm. It’s followed in 2005 by the political review This Week, a film, and then – as in 2000 – a selection of recent programmes with signing for the deaf. BBC News 24 arrives at 4.05am, far later than its 2000 opening time of 1.55am. The presence of Fame Academy gives the whole evening a rather glitzy feel. Ordinarily the Thursdays of 2005 are solid, swaggering affairs on BBC1, albeit increasingly undermined by the listless EastEnders.

ITV1′s on safe ground until 10pm. As in 2000 we’ve Emmerdale at 7pm, followed by a regional opt-out, The Bill, and instead of Steve Penk at 9pm there’s the dependable Fat Friends. But then things go somewhat awry in the face of the 10pm news on BBC1. Celebrity Surgery: Who’s had What Done? makes for a unsavoury and half-hearted prelude to ITV1′s own news at 10.30pm – half an hour earlier than in 2000, but only thanks to a long battle over how and when to axe News at Ten which, five years ago, found the bulletin languishing at 11pm. Tonight With Trevor McDonald now sits elsewhere in the week in two half-hour chunks up against different episodes of EastEnders, and continues to land headline-grabbing (and award-garnering) exclusives. ITV1′s night time, however, is the same as it ever was: a mix of regionalia, repeats,ITV Nightscreen (30 minutes longer than five years ago!) and, unbelievably, Cybernet just a quarter of an hour later than in 2000. The wooden spoon goes to the dreadful Win, Lose or Draw Late: a travesty of a once-majestic series.

The smaller channels make their way past sundown via markedly different routes to those of five years ago. Channel 4 now boasts the same line-up between 6pm and 8pm every weeknight:The SimpsonsHollyoaks and Channel 4 News. It was to “help reinforce C4′s appeal with young and upmarket audiences”, according to Tim Gardam, that the channel originally shelled out for The Simpsons. Poaching Springfield’s finest from BBC2 may have been costly, but undoubtedly goes on to hand the denizens of the fictional Chester suburb larger ratings than 2000′s Dishes. All the same, it would’ve been nice if C4 hadn’t aped their BBC rivals so blatantly. Having The Simpsons segue straight into the News instead would’ve boosted the latter no end, and placed C4′s most high profile faces side by side in the schedules.

The rest of the evening is a far more raucous and bawdy one than 2000. A Place in The Sunand The City Gardener keep things ticking over nicely, followed by angry rhetoric from former Today editor Rod Liddle in Immigration is a Time Bomb. So far so Channel 4. Then it’s into a string of near-the-knuckle programming as part of another of the station’s occasional Bannedseasons. The first such affair back in April 1991 was truly groundbreaking both by way of its content and the publicity it won. Today’s fare, however, seems tawdry rather than tantalising: X-Rated: The Ads they Couldn’t ShowBanned in the UK and the film kids, all of which could just as likely turn up on this channel any week of the year (though in fairness it’s worth mentioning that a run of Dispatches had come to an end the previous Thursday).

In complete contrast, five offers up a far more sober and uneventful menu than before, with all traces of Sex and Shopping long banished. Today’s schedule underwent a last-minute re-write to incorporate two live football matches, hence what was actually shown differed considerably to what was originally scheduled. The normal early evening repeats of Home and Away andFamily Affairs were pushed back to mid-afternoon to make way for a UEFA Cup game at 4.45pm, in turn replacing a matinee feature film. The second match, again from the UEFA Cup, was parachuted into the 8pm slot, and again at the expense of a feature film.

But still squeezed in the middle, as previously advertised, is an hour of Michael Howard, back once again to answer more questions from an invited audience. It’s the third time he’s appeared on five today, having earlier followed up his turn on The Wright Stuff with a spot on the News(temporarily kicked back from 5.30pm to 4.15pm). Normally this 7pm slot would see another news round-up and a documentary. Later on, once the football’s out of the way a feature film hastens us quickly through to, well, more of the same: John Barnes’s Football Night at 12.10am, and from there on its international soccer all the way. Inoffensive, unexceptional, and as a whole somewhat underwhelming.

That just leaves BBC2. After a second welcome helping of Comic Relief in da Bungalow, it’s the frankly unappetising Masterchef Goes Large. “Previously, Masterchef asked members of the public to cook three courses, and, quite frankly, who couldn’t?” presenter Gregg Wallace booms. “We ask people to perform tasks they have no chance of practicing for.” The results, however, are neither one thing nor the other. This melee of rushed recipes, petulant backhanders and shouting is hugely indigestible. It’s only been running for a few weeks, but already feels like it’s overstayed its welcome.

The same can’t be said of what follows at 7pm: The Culture Show, BBC2′s similarly fledgling weekly arts strand, which debuted on Thursday 11 November and has grown in confidence and good humour ever since. Tonight finds Mark Kermode introducing items on Robert Crumb, Tony Wilson, the latest exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum and some prisoners performing Othello. Crufts is next at 8pm, where it has been on this day in March every year bar 2001 (thanks to foot-and-mouth). If Horizon hadn’t ended its current series this time last week, it would also have held the distinction of being on this same day every year since 2000. Instead it’s the first in the documentary series Blame the Parents, followed by Grown-Up Gappers: wisely-scheduled fare for discerning mature viewers. The post-Newsnight slot has completely changed since five years ago. It’s now no longer the preserve of comedy, and instead houses assorted arts and documentary efforts, tonight’s being a repeat of The Culture Show. Finally a relic from the BBC2 of old – a French film with English subtitles – shuttles night owls through toThe Learning Zone, opening up 90 minutes later than 2000 and here devoted exclusively to schools programmes.

“The main point is using the eyeballs”

Overall, then, it’s safe to say the sheer amount of change evident when placing 2005′s listings next to those of 2000 is by far the most significant development in TV of the last five years. Of equal significance, however, is the fact it’s almost all been change for the better. The BBC1 of today is a gargantuan leap forwards compared to 2000, when OTT regretted its lack of “a hard edge, an aggressiveness.” It’s best summed up by the presence in our schedule of a quartet of (all new) shows: BreakfastBargain HuntDoctors, and … Da Bungalow. It’s by no means a perfect channel - EastEnders is flailing, the 9pm slot is still a weak point – but it has to be said that Lorraine Heggessey’s tenure as Controller has been a resounding success. Having the ear of erstwhile Director-General Greg Dyke for much of the past five years proved an enormous boon, of course, and it’s not without irony that Thursday 10 March 2005 found the one long departed from his post and the other having just recently announced her exit.

In fact, personnel changes frame the evolution of TV since 2000 just as much as the programmes themselves. All five terrestrial channels are under completely different management compared to this point half a decade ago, and that’s a degree of turbulence not witnessed in any previous five-year span examined in TV24. BBC2′s new Controller Roly Keating hasn’t yet had time to make his mark, but it’s fair to say his predecessor Jane Root left him a buoyant inheritance, albeit one that still requires something to settle the problem of just what to show in the early evening. As seems to have always been the case, much of BBC2 schedules itself. You feel that only when it gets dark does the Controller really start to call the shots. All the same, the channel in 2005 is just as “strong and confident” as OTT reckoned in 2000.

“I want to nail this nonsense about ITV1,” grumbled Charles Allen, the channel’s chief executive, in March 2005. He was responding to the latest in the unending stream of reports proclaiming his network to be in terminal decline, its ratings lower than ever, its advertising drying up, and its programmes and presenters old and stale. “Would there be a headline saying millions of people are leaving the BBC?” he continued. “I think not. You’ve got to make sure you’re comparing like with like.” Allen argued, not without cause, that it was time to start judging ITV’s performance, like the BBC, on the basis of all its channels: ITV1, 2, and 3. Moreover, “we are working on a fourth proposition but we haven’t announced the brand,” he added.

Allen’s mutterings sum up the extent to which the way ITV works, and likes to be seen to work, has gone through a revolution. In terms of business structure and management, it’s a world away from the model in operation in 2000. The network is more streamlined, thanks to the merger of Granada and Carlton and all their respective franchises, and it’s more coherent, thanks to the dealings of its no-nonsense boss plus the sharp eye of current director of programmes Nigel Pickard. But in terms of its core programmes and on-screen faces, it’s virtually unchanged. 12 hours of ITV1′s 2005 schedule was identical to that of 2000. As much as Allen insists “the main point is using the eyeballs we collect on ITV1 and streaming them into 2, 3 or perhaps 4,” first he needs to make sure the eyeballs keep watching ITV1. It’s the channel that’s evolved the least since 2000, but has managed to keep any sense of inertia in check via strong new shows (Today with Des and Mel) and successful maintenance of existing ones (EmmerdaleThe Bill) – so far.

While both the BBC and ITV are now reaping the benefits of digital expansion (though not, in ITV’s case, without a desperately bumpy ride getting there), Channel 4′s grand plan seems a mess. Indeed, it’s not clear if there is a proper plan, thanks to all the comings-and-goings of the last five years. Since 2000 the channel’s lost not one but two chief executives in quick succession, besides replacing its chairman, director of programmes and most chief commissioning editors along the way. E4, “Channel 4 without the boring bits”, remains by and large a “watch it here first” effort, while the forthcoming More4 looks set to be “the boring bits” you first watched a few years back. The schedule of Thursday 9 March 2000 left OTT “thoroughly charmed”. The schedule of Thursday 10 March 2005, by contrast, is sometimes quite charmless. C4 has slipped, undoubtedly, from its position as de facto “winner” of TV24, and doesn’t carry itself with quite so much assurance and fun. Although the current team of Luke Johnson (chairman), Andy Duncan (chief executive) and Kevin Lygo (director of programmes) don’t face the biggest challenge at present – that honour goes to ITV1 – they do have the most immediate: making their channel feel as fresh and exciting as it once was.

And so, finally, to five. There once was a time when it felt things like European Blue Reviewwould haunt the channel forever. Then Kevin Lygo and a flock of other executives from C4 arrived to clear out the stables, before promptly defecting back from where they came. As such five is a vast improvement on how it looked in 2000, when it was cash-strapped, poorly run and choked up with loud US exports, but it still seems to lack a unifying identity. Its output is utterly inoffensive and sensible, yet strung together from whatever’s on the (admittedly well-stocked) shelf. Perhaps it’s still looking for something to define itself against, like BBC2 is to BBC1, and C4 to ITV1. Its present front line, Jane Lighting (chief executive) and Dan Chambers (director of programmes), have more money at their disposal than any of their predecessors, but have yet to make five feel like a first choice for the viewer rather than merely an alternative to the other four.

The final verdict? Quite simply, terrestrial TV’s in a much better condition than 2000, and rumours of its impending demise at the hands of multichannel platforms or the supposedly all-conquering broadband and mobile phones are almost certainly misplaced. So be it cause for celebration, a thumbs-up or even a sigh of relief, all seem appropriate ways of toasting the fact that our TV is, on balance, getting better. And that is something which can only ever be good news.