With tonight's A Mother’s Son showing once again that ITV drama is back on the map, the resurgence could just be coming at exactly the right time for the network.
The turnaround has been a thing to behold. The halcyon days of Morse have been put to bed, and in their place the unintentionally hilarious Midsomer Murders has taken its place. With Rosemary and Thyme and the genial Lewis following that up, it seemed ITV were only in the business of blunt cop shows. Even when they ventured out of the police station, show’s like Doc Martin and Kingdom were so light and airy they made Maltesers look like lead weights.
Last year though, ITV dramas improved drastically. They moved away from just police procedurals with an odd quirk and dove into individual, character driven pieces. Dramas like Marchlands and Injustice were enthralling dramas that showed that ITV still had the wherewithal to make great dramatic TV.
They reached their zenith with Appropriate Adult, an absolutely spellbinding drama that rightfully netted BAFTAs for both stars Dominic West and Emily Watson before only being beaten by This Is England ’88.
It was all typified by comparing Wild at Heart and Appropriate Adult. Wild at Heart, was slow, genial, filled with ‘nice’ actors and overall very dull. Appropriate Adult was gripping, dark, filled with talent and excellent.
While the channel still longs for another game show to take over the zeitgeist of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire used to gather, it will keep trying to force sub-par games shows on their schedules. They’re going to be doing it or some time too, as the era of the game show has come to an end. Ask yourself, when was the last time you genuinely tuned in for a game show?
The trouble is though for ITV is that the rest of the audience not coming to the channel without the dramas just aren’t staying. For too long ITV has stood on four legs, with the first of those being it’s increasingly good dramas.
While that leg continues to gather interest, the other three main parts of the channel do nothing to get new viewers in.
The first of these three are soaps. ITV loves soap. Emmerdale and Coronation Street still remain an almost constant, but the channel also used to give airtime to Heartbeat, Crossroads and The Bill. While both Emmerdale and Coronation Street have a good audience, thise who aren’t watching them already just simply aren’t going to tune in.
Exactly the same rules apply for the show’s complete overreliance on reality shows too. While, just like the soaps, they bring in a whole lot of viewers, new audiences are hard to find, with those who dismissing them as populist terribleness not likely to become ardent Britain’s Go Talent viewers. . In fact, these are only likely to lose viewers, tired of treading water and wanting new experiences. They also make the channel look far less attractive for those not interested as they’re almost constantly on. If it’s not X Factor, it’s I’m a Celebrity or Dancing on Ice. You can’t escape them for more than a month or two. The BBC isn’t devoid of these types of show either, but still sport half of what ITV carry.
With the final game show leg being about as attractive to a lot of viewers as a case of chicken pox, it’s really just soaps, full dramas and the almost continual reality shows happening on the channel.
Another potential problem is that ITV puts all of its eggs in one basket. ITV2 is simply taken up with spinoffs to the main channels talent contests and reality shows. Maybe there’s a film every now and again, but that’s it. ITV simply plays old repeats of Morse and Poirot and ITV4 is the dumping ground for all sport that ITV1 doesn’t like (i.e. everything but football).
While it’s admirable that very little of ITV’s programming is imported, the channel’s lifeblood is slowly draining away. Hopefully it can be transfused with waves of great dramas or some bright, fresh ideas, or ITV will be building their castle of a bed of sand.
FemaleFirst Cameron Smith