“The thing about this hand is… it’s a fightin’ hand!”

Monday, December 26, 2005 by

So the good Doctor didn’t get quite as many viewers as predicted, but 9.8 million is pretty remarkable for a children’s science-fiction adventure at any time of the year, especially one up against Sir Terence of Wogan on the other side.

In terms of honours it also shared second place with Coronation Street behind EastEnders (11 million), but only 400,000 more than The Two Ronnies which was on a whole three hours later (9.4 million). Interesting how the other big BBC1 show on the night, The Green Green Grass, didn’t even make it into the top 10, which means it got less than the Queen (in 10th place with 6.2 million on BBC1). Conversely all ITV1′s big beasts made the chart, with Emmerdale sixth (6.9m) and Who Wants to be a Millionaire? eighth (6.6m). Even if the Beeb fluked first place, overall this was a score draw.

A saunter through ratings from the past few Christmas Days puts things in a slightly different light. The most watched shows on 25 December over the last five years have all belonged to BBC1:

2005: EastEnders – 11m
2004: EastEnders – 12.8m
2003: Only Fools and Horses – 15.5m
2002: Only Fools and Horses – 16.3m
2001: Only Fools and Horses – 20.3m

Yes, there’s a pattern emerging here, which no doubt the Media Guardian will loudly trumpet across its pages in the New Year. But 2001 should itself be put in an even wider context, coming as it did off the back of gigantic hype about the Trotters’ return. Christmas Day ratings haven’t almost halved in just five years. In 2000 the highest watched show, Coronation Street, garnered 14.56m. In 1999 Coronation Street again took first place, this time with 14.7m. And in 1998 it was, perhaps unbelievably in retrospect, Men Behaving Badly which scooped the prize, with a smaller figure of 13.9m.

Sure, audiences are continuing to fragment (consider how the programme in 10th place this year got 6.2m, while in 1999 it got 11m), but not at any particularly alarming rate, and most certainly not because of the quality of offerings both main channels are continuing to wheel out every festive season. If anything 2005 was one of the strongest Christmases for some time programme-wise. Just consider some of the previous shows that have made the top 10 by default of being on 25 December: Midsomer Murders in 2004 (with 6.9m), The Lost World in 2001 (8.3m), You’ve Been Framed at Christmas in 2000 (9.5m!) and They Think it’s All Over in 1998 (a massive 12.1m).

When it comes to stuff that’ll deliver 15 odd million regardless of quality (take a bow Del Boy) or something new, exciting and fun that’ll do the job with just under 10m (“A cup of tea – that’s all I needed!”), the choice should be obvious.


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