Weaver's Week 2013-06-23

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This week, we're looking into the question being asked up and down the land.


Why does no-one watch Channel 4 daytimes?

Back in the day, Channel 4 had some massive daytime programmes. It's a little unfair to draw comparisons with Countdown getting 5 million viewers in the early 1990s: multi-channel television was an exotic novelty, and the vast majority of sets had just four choices. But it's less unfair to remember how Deal or No Deal could regularly score 2.5 million in 2011, about three times its regular score this year. So, what's happened?

For the purposes of "daytime", we're going to consider everything between pre-school show "The Hoobs" ending at 7am and "Channel 4 News" starting at 7pm. This period begins with breakfast, an area where Channel 4 has often struggled. Yes, everyone remembers Chris and Gabby on The Big Breakfast, or Johnny and Denise a few years later, but no-one cares to remembers the people between. Remember Rick Adams? Precisely.

The Big Breakfast Chris Evans remembers crushing the opposition.

Since the light news magazine RI:SE failed, and Big Brother ran off, Channel 4 has pretty much given up on breakfast television, putting out endless reruns of acquired sitcoms. It's cheap, it's dirt cheap, but there's no earthly reason for anyone to make a point of tuning in. There's nothing unexpected, no news to surprise people, no plots that haven't gone out many times before. At least ITV Breakfast Broadcasting has the faint possibility that someone will say something unprintable, shocking, or mildly remarkable to Lorraine Kelly.

The sitcoms continue to 10am, making way for shows about houses, re-runs of Come Dine with Me, an advertiser-funded cookery programme, sometimes a vintage movie. Doesn't Channel 4 air programmes for schools and colleges here? No: that obligation is now met by sending out DVDs and making online resources. Doesn't it have a half-hour news bulletin? No: that was discontinued last year, for budget reasons.

Budget reasons. The bane of every scheduler's life at the moment. Channel 4 has chosen to concentrate its money on primetime and afternoons, everything else is filler and ideally produced at no cost. There are enough copies of Place in the Sun and Selling Houses and Location Location Location to fill an hour or two each day very cheaply, and we don't blame Channel 4 for using these assets.

Come Dine with Me Cheap filler for lunchtime.

The afternoons have seen substantial change this year. The block of children's programmes on BBC1 was ended, allowing the daytime schedule to move from BBC2 to BBC1. Last year, BBC viewers had to positively switch over at 3pm or be faced with the dayglo nightmare that is Tweenies; many of them switched over, but landed on ITV or Channel 4. From that point of view, moving Countdown to start at 2.40, and re-jigging it so that it wasn't taking a commercial break at 2.58, made sense. Viewers know what Countdown is, some will prefer it to David Dickinson's antiques show on ITV.

This year, there's no flow of viewers from BBC1 at 3pm. It's straight from Escape to the Country to Perfection with that nice Nick Knowles, no retuning required. Countdown didn't get that boost, and few people would make a point of tuning in for the half-hour quizzes that used to air at 3.30. Sandi Toksvig's 1001 Things You Should Know had its fans, The Common Denominator had its fans but there were fewer of them, and people watched Rory Bremner's Face the Clock because they'd fallen asleep with the set still on.

Countdown TV's Mr. Countdown.

We don't blame Channel 4 for running experiments, for making month-long runs of half-hour shows. Some experiments will succeed, some will fail, some require a bit of work; the three shows noted above each fall into a different category. In the end, the 3.30 slot didn't work, and it looks like the remaining half-hour quizzes will go out at lunchtime. For 1001 Things, that might become a good home. Changing the Countdown structure was radical, and perhaps done for the wrong reasons, but it's made for a better show and we wouldn't reverse it. There are interruptions to the series for horse racing, and these irritate regular viewers, but they're almost exclusively at the end of a week, and might well serve in place of a summer break.

And so to 4pm, where Deal or No Deal is being slaughtered by Tipping Point on ITV, and cookery or antiques shows on BBC1. The latter get an audience because it's BBC1. Yes, the same shows in the same slot went out on BBC2 last year, and no-one watched it precisely because it was BBC2. People get into the habit of watching channels, and they're not in the habit of watching Channel 4 through the day.

Deal or No Deal Look! It's Little-viewers Noely!

But why has Deal or No Deal been suffering so badly, when Tipping Point has succeeded? We think it's a difference in tone. Both shows are about riding one's luck, knowing how far to push it and when to stop. But Tipping Point builds up to its big-money payout: the £10,000 jackpot doesn't enter the machine until 4.45, and we won't know whether it's left until the end of the hour. Deal can turn very sour very quickly: one wrong choice in the opening round – a choice that happens at least once a week – and the jackpot is gone. By 4.45, it can be clear that a Deal contender will win no more than £3000, and it's long stopped being fun. Tipping Point remains exciting to the very end, it's so unpredictable.

The 5pm slot has the big guns – The Chase regularly features in ITV's top 30 programmes, Pointless is not so far behind the BBC1 list. Channel 4 tends to go with competitive lifestyle programmes here – Come Dine with Me, its boarding-house equivalent Three in a Bed, and next week Brendan's Magical Mystery Tour, a successor to Coach Trip. These are meant to do respectably, and generally perform to that standard. Again, Channel 4 isn't afraid to experiment, Five Minutes to a Fortune aired at 5pm in April, and might not have lived up to the absurdly high expectations placed on it.

Five Minutes to a Fortune The schedule is turning.

Some programmes have become relative fixtures in the schedule – apart from its brief sojourn at 2.40, Countdown has been at or about 3.15 since 2010, and had been at or about 3.30 since 2003. Deal or No Deal extended from 45 minutes to an hour, but has always finished at 5pm. And then there's the 6pm hour: home to imported sitcom The Simpsons since late 2004, and to UK soap opera Hollyoaks since 1995. Neither of these shows has moved since first coming to the channel, an awfully long time for the schedule to ossify.

Across the daytime schedule, we see little evidence that Channel 4 is developing new talent. Mel and Sue are the pin-ups for Channel 4 daytime: Light Lunch put them on people's television screens, and they've never looked back again. Not even the advertiser-funded cookery programme wants to chance itself on unproven talent. This is a shame.

The Great British Bake Off They started on Channel 4 daytimes.

Channel 4 is at its greatest when it is boldest: it is weakest when it allows shows to go on far too long. It was right to close The Crystal Maze after six years, there were few places the show could go. In retrospect, Channel 4 was wrong to commit to Big Brother for as long as it did, but this judgement wasn't at all obvious in 2006. This column's prescription would be to consider each show carefully and individually and on its own merits. Might Deal or No Deal benefit from a 45-minute slot, or even 30 minutes at 5.30? Could Hollyoaks move permanently to E4 and everything else hodge up? Could there be a programme slotted around The Simpsons, in the way SM:TV used to position itself around the Pokémon cartoons?

Our view is that Channel 4 has the building blocks of a good daytime schedule. The channel's been hit by the end of the 3pm switchover, and its biggest banker has been hit by Tipping Point. Once they've worked out how to glue all the bits together, the rest will follow.

Only Connect

Series 7, heat 6: Festival Fans v General Practitioners

Winners go on to face the losers of match 7, losers here will be helping the Corpuscles explain to Amanda Holden about how the cow and the chicken are different animals, and how the cartoon Cow and Chicken is not real. Walls 303 and 304, website fiends.

Victoria's tipple of the week is Scotch: we'll have to find out whose hopes will be on the rocks by the end of the show. One of the General Practitioners has been on stage as a Greek god in a loincloth and nothing else; the team have been taking one connecting wall, three times daily. Let's hope that wall comes up. The Festival Fans have managed to knock over Bono in a bar, for which we have nothing but the greatest of admiration.

"The rules of round one are the last thing I understand," claims the host, modestly. Pictures for the GPs, they see a bloke and then a hat, and apparently that's enough to say "Pork products" and claim three points. No time on the BBC for West Ham, so no change there. For the FFs, it's Hank Morgan and Henry DeTamble and Gary Sparrow and Marty McFly. Time travellers all: Connecticut Yankee with King Arthur, The Time Traveller of Wife, the time detective, and Back to the Future*. Which, according to our host, is the best movie ever. See, we said she understood more than she lets on. 3-1 to the GPs.

Back with the GPs and it's Freda Fry and Gromit and 4'33". It's a piece of avant-garde music, the team buzzes, and says nothing. This is not their answer. It should have been: the FFs pick up the silence for a bonus. Freda is Bert's wife in The Archers, a documentary series on Radio 4. Music for the FFs: the Partridge Family, Taylor Swift, Counting Crows, and The Eagles. No, they're not all Cassidies. "Chicks" is the answer from the GPs, subsequently expanded to "birds", which does for the point. 4-2 to the GPs.

"Birmingham" is not the most giveaway clue. Then there's the Paris-Roubaix cycle race, Glinda in "The Wizard of Oz" film, and an Antony Gormley statue. Apparently, "Of The North": Venice, Hell, Good Witch, and Angel. Good point. For the FFs, Harrogate is to Mercury and buzz. Not even enough time to sound the Five Point Klaxon: it's postcodes and their chemical elements. Suddenly, the Festival Fans have the first set, 7-5.

Victoria introduces the Connections round with an extended analogy about going out and having a good night and too much to drink. Sounds like our Monday night, talking with two Casualty actors in one evening, and finding that that show attracts some *really* rabid fans. Moon landing sites evade the GPs, handing over for a bonus. Some sort of coloured shapes for the FFs, which apparently resolve to characters in Angry Birds. "Whatever that is," says Victoria. "I'm still playing Scrabble." 10-5 to the Fans.

A one-word answer for things doubling in length ends with "biennial", and two for the GPs. More pictures for the FFs, who start with Whiskey, and think it might be the NATO alphabet. Nothing so simple: vodka and lager prove it's the drinks in the Chumbawumba hit "Tubthumping". Or an aperitif for our host. 12-7.

Government department ranks for the GPs, and three up from Private Secretary and one up from Minister of State is Secretary of State and two points. More pop culture for the FFs: Ease and Eyes, and they're going for it! After Owes comes Ewes, and a 15-9 lead.

Speculation has allowed the Festival Fans to score well: can they succeed on the wall? There are laundry things, there are Mrs, there are phrases for one's hairstyle. They think the fourth group is types of stake, which we can't quite see. Oh, types of steak! T-bone steak, yes, but Porterhouse? Mrs. Grundy is a stereotype, a bit of a prude; Mrs. Mangle from Neighbours doesn't belong there, of course. Ten points!

Only Connect (2) No wallies, these General Practitioners: Jo Durrant, Mike Crowe, Chris David

The General Practitioners find their wall less of a wall than a low hurdle, solving it in twelve jabs. You know that wall they've been taking three times daily? Here it is. Four superheroes from Marvel comics, four products that changed their names, four running races, four associated with the number 10. Bit like this wall: Ten points!

It's 25-19 to the Festival Fans as we head into the final round, Missing Vowels. "If you don't know what that means, you're on the wrong channel." Number One hitmakers of the 1950s goes to the GPs 3-(-1), Triangular Things is theirs by 2-1. Fictional Johns, that's a 2-2 draw so still one point in it. Varieties of tea, another 2-2 draw. One-word "Best Picture" Oscar winners sees us out, there's time for one more point, one more buzz. It's from the Festival Fans, they're right, and they win the match by 30-28.

End of the line for the GPs, a C to see for the Festival Fans, and everyone's off for a nice refreshing mug of tea. That's apart from the host, who has a Scotch waiting in the bar. Remember, peeps, it takes great training, great practice, and many borrowed livers to drink as much as Victoria says she does. Even under expert supervision, don't try this at home, don't try this away.

This Week And Next

Worrisome times for News Corporation, as they face a phone-hacking lawsuit in California. The plaintiff is Eunice Huthart, known in these parts as the invincible champion of Gladiators legend. There can only be one winner. The UK arm of the company has been sued for similar reasons by Anthony Hutton, who says he won Big Brother in 2005, and who are we to doubt him?

Gladiators For legal reasons, we can't give a witty caption.

BARB ratings in the week to 9 June, with 10.45m people seeing Britain's Got Talent. That does include people who watched on video recorders and electronic catch-up, but not the 1.8m who saw on ITV-HD, nor the 600,000 who tuned in on ITV+1. BARB doesn't make the "total number of people who saw a show" numbers available. We do know that 1.345m tuned to ITV2 for egg-stra action on Britain's Got More Talent, and 775,000 the series highlights show there on Sunday night.

Still with bad yolks, The Apprentice had 7.3m on BBC1, with the Friday Night Live show of BBC The Voice of Holland of UK getting 5.15m viewers. Celebrity Mr and Mrs had 3.6m, Tipping Point Lucky Stars began with 2.7m, level with The Apprentice You're Fired. Four Rooms came back to Channel 4 primetime, and it's the biggest game show they had all week. 890,000 viewers, with Deal or No Deal peaking at 780,000, and Only Connect (BBC4) seen by 720,000. Go on, who had "Noel Edmonds" in the sweepstake of celebrities about to be eclipsed by the all-conquering Connecting Walls?

To next week, when the Cardiff Singer of the World finishes (BBC4, 7.30 Sunday). Finals week continues on Countdown (C4, 3.10 weekdays). Brendan's Magical Mystery Tour (C4, 5pm weekdays) has the genial tour guide back on screens, while Blue Peter You Decide (CBBC, 5pm Monday) puts possible presenters through a survival course in Snowdonia. There are new series of Four Weddings (UKTV Living, 8pm Thursday) and The News Quiz (Radio 4, 6.30 Friday), but we can't get excited about those. Saturday's line-up on BBC1 is a Celebrity Mastermind, a repeated Pointless Celebs, and In It to Win It. All of them eminently disposable if Andy Murray wants to give us another Saturday night spectacular. If he does, it'll annoy ITV, because they've got a lot riding on Your Face Sounds Familiar (7.30) and a new edition of Famous Family Fortunes (8.45) featuring folk from Big Brother and Casualty. They get everywhere!

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