After viewers, more like

Sunday, July 30, 2006 by

ITV1′s immediate axing of Saturday night series It’s Now or Never attracted a fair amount of headlines this week, such is the embarrassment, but not many people seem to have noticed that they’ve also yanked off another series after one episode – the repeat of Afterlife that was on at 9pm last Sunday and was supposed to be there for the next five weeks.

Really, though, who didn’t see this one coming? Afterlife wasn’t much of a hit first time round, pulling in defiantly mediocre audiences, so how did ITV ever think that it might do any better this time? In fact, it got two million viewers and was beaten by all four other analogue channels.

I recall William Phillips, writing in Broadcast a decade or so ago, saying that repeats of drama series simply do not work, and that remains the case. There he was talking about a repeat run of Soldier Soldier being hauled off halfway through, and aside from self-contained mysteries like a Frost or a Morse, I can’t think of one drama rerun that has ever proven successful on the main channels. This is presumably why Doctor Who, which was certainly hugely successful, hasn’t been repeated on BBC1.

It’s not just that ITV thought an Afterlife rerun might work at any time, but that they thought it might work for six weeks on Sundays at 9pm – what has perhaps been the flagship slot for ITV1. This is where all the big guns have gone in the past, the showcase for all the commercial channel’s biggest drama hits. Now it’s being filled by 15-year old episodes ofPoirot! Even in July, this is dreadful.

As recently as maybe five years ago, ITV was walking all over the Beeb in terms of popular drama. Now look at it – this week, aside from the soaps and The Bill, there are just three dramas on ITV1, and only Where the Heart Is could be considered a hit, and even that was at its peak in the ’90s. Bad Girls is surely on its last legs, and the other one, Jane Hall, has been on the shelf for two years. Meanwhile BBC1, with the likes of Sorted and Inspector Lynley, are, to use the words of Greg Dyke, out ITV-ing ITV when it comes to popular shows.

I’ve asked it before and I’ll keep on asking it – how on earth can ITV1 think the way to increase ratings is to spend no money on programmes?


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