Today we are faced with the important question: what's on the telly?
More importantly, why is there STILL nothing on ITV?
After even lower lowest ever viewing figures and a month when the channel that almost very nearly but didn't quite bring you Celebrity Nail Coffin cancelled one show after… er… one show, we get the news that the man responsible has done the decent thing and accepted a huge payoff.
It's almost time to cue up the SCHADENFREUDE song!
But before I do that, I think I should say that "beating" ITV is beginning to look BAD for television.
Nowadays, it seems that no one really knows what ITV 1 is FOR.
If you want road-tested family entertainment, then you have BBC One; if you want to go a bit upmarket, there's BBC2 or a bit downmarket there's BBCThree. If you want something provocative, and possibly a little bit saucy, you know to dial up Channel 4. If you want the hand-me-downs of the best of American TV, you know to look for Sky One – or eventually Sky Three on Freeview. And we all know what you get from five!
For some reason, ITV decided to make their Prime Channel "like BBC One but a bit dumber". More quizzes with bigger prizes and easier questions; more makeovers with perkier makers; more soaps but sponsored by DELICIOUS chocolate!
The problem is that people do not want their television "the same but a bit dumber". That is insulting. But more importantly it is BORING.
Nice safe predictable drama might tick along happily forever, but it does not generate news and so it does not attract new viewers to see what everyone is talking about.
ITV's problems stem from a long decline – almost in sync with the decline in companies contributing to the network. It's almost as though they have been shedding creativity instead of concentrating it! – but it is not unfair to point a fluffy foot at the BBC's rediscovered pre-eminence on a Saturday evening as a key symptom of when ITV went from a bit poorly to on the critical list. Not the GOOD critical list.
"DOCTOR WHO" and "STRICTLY DANCE FRANCHISE" and long-running favourite "CASUALTY" form a winning combination that it seems even the lottery show cannot derail. Even though they could all be said to be "old" formats, what is different about them is that they are still about INNOVATION: they exist to bring you something NEW. They are warm and reassuring and yet they stretch your mind AT THE SAME TIME!
ITV used to be about taking you to new exciting places, visiting new worlds: whether it was the EXOTIC faux-continental worlds of the old ITC dramas like "The Champions" or "Department S" in the 60's or GRIMY underside that we would never see ourselves with "The Sweeney" in the 70's, or the CLASSY and yet seamy Victorian world of "Sherlock Holmes" or the sinister MAGICAL realm of "Robin of Sherwood" in the 80's.
Even Inspector Morse – the series that now almost DEFINES ITV – that superficially sounds entirely mundane, it's about an Oxford detective, discovered strange new lands in the world of academe and Morse's landscape of mind and music and melancholy – while at the same time entirely recreating the way that detective drama was presented on the telly.
Before they became FRANCHISES, Lynda La Plant dramas would regularly break the mould.
Now what have we got to look forward to from "the other side" but another variation of "Heart in the Title" on Sunday evenings?
This is a BAD thing.
In order to guarantee VIBRANT and EXCITING television series, we need to have a GOOD ITV and a GOOD BBC in dynamic competition, each trying to OUTCLASS the other.
It is also important that they have two independent INCOME streams: for the BBC this is the licence fee and for ITV it has always been the advertising revenue. But thanks to messing around with the way that we get television, this advertising stream has been diverted into lots and lots of other channels.
There is a PUN there that I did not intend!
It is all too easy to set up a new television channel that pumps out some CHEAP TAT for twelve hours a day. Inexpensive but it draws a few small viewers and a chunk of the advertisers' money.
How many of the new digital channels are UK Gold-a-likes? Or Party Music Mixers? And how many are quality prestige drama channels? I will tell you the answer to the last question: you can count them on the fingers of one elbow!
With the money coming in being nibbled to death by cats, you can see how ITV would become INSANELY cautious: always playing it SAFE and avoiding all the RISKY dramas. You know: the EXCITING ones!
Competition is good for television, but it has to be the right SORT of competition. The BBC and ITV should clash like titans, but at the moment ITV is like Gulliver in Lilliput: tied down by the pigmies.
I did not think I would ever be saying this, but we might have to think about how to SAVE ITV!
Mind you, when you hear that their recovery plan involves MORE "reality TV" of the "Z Factor" and "I'm A Celebrity, No Really I Am" variety you have to wonder if they really WANT saving!