How do we stand now, those of us engaged in making programmes, at the start of the fourth year of the company’s operation as a programme contractor?
Have we lost our originality, our fire? Has complacency taken the place of ingenuity? Are we, as one journalist put it, “playing safe” with our programme pattern?
If one is to believe what some of our Press-men are writing, then in fact ITV is just coasting along picking up its millions of profit with effortless ease.
Let us examine this suggestion, and take a glance at some of the shows we have been “coasting” along with in the past few months.
Take drama for instance.
This company’s contribution to the ITV network in 1958 was forty-one plays – far in excess of any other contractor. Two-thirds of these plays were British in every sense of the word, eighteen of them being adaptations of British stage successes, and eleven of them specially commissioned TV plays by British authors. This is quite apart from the tremendously successful half-hour British series, “Murder Bag”, which has consistently appeared in the top ten ratings. “Television Playhouse” and the “Play of the Week” series have become firmly established and represent a most important and successful contribution to the ITV programme pattern.
We intend to increase our number of British TV plays in the future and encourage more writers to work exclusively for us.
And then light entertainment can claim to have made its contribution towards originality in 1958.
“The Jubilee Show” succeeded in combining music, comedy and nostalgia in a blend of the old and new, regularly rating in the top-ten, and bringing many letters of appreciation from all kinds of people.
“Rush Hour”, “East Side, West Side”, “Free and Easy” and “Hotel Imperial” all stepped out of line and gave us new ways of presentation. “Cool for Cats”, still on the air and gaining in popularity, will continue with us into the New Year. And the two original ITV quiz shows, “Take Your Pick” and “Double Your Money”, are surely the most successful of them all, and remain the most consistently highest rated quizzes. I only mention these few shows because they are company originations, which is all we are concerned with.
How about features?
Dan Farson’s “People in Trouble” scries has brought him to the front rank as a personality interviewer. “This Week”, coming up to its fourth year, is the only programme of its kind on the ITV network and remains the most informative of all programmes with a behind-the-news format. “New Horizon”, “Conquest of Space”, “Undercurrent” – which brought Gerard Fay to the fore as a new TV personality -“Out of Step” and “Keeping in Step”, “Only Yesterday”, “USSR Now” and “America Now” make an impressive line-up of programme effort and achievement. Difficult to detect any lack of fire in this section.
How about the children?
Are we relying on cowboys and Indians for our high ratings? The facts show just the opposite. Currently the most successful live children’s British serial, “The Red Dragon”, written and produced by John Rhodes, recently passed the viewing figures of “Pop-Eye”, “Fury” and “Rin Tin Tin”. Three of our recent serials were specially written by members of A-R children’s team, and in no programme section is there more zeal and dedication to their work. It is in this section that an important new method of animation “Visimotion” has been developed and is proving of great value, as seen recently in the “Alexander the Mouse” and “The Enchanted House” programmes.
Schools programmes, in their second year, have widened their horizons and with the introduction of “The Dordogne River” programme, specially filmed on location, they stepped out of the classroom to bring the reality of the lesson to the individual. The new programmes planned for the spring term are designed to further this conception of TV education. And then, of course, there are the programmes that do not fall into any particular category — the outside broadcasts, 105 of them, in addition to the Wimbledon Tennis coverage; the “Close-Up” and “Spotlight” scries; the rapidly produced tributes to personalities, such as Mike Todd, Robert Donat and Jack Buchanan, usually mounted in a few’ hours.
So perhaps this suggestion of “coasting” is merely Press talk. Why should we expect anything other than severe criticism from a medium which is more and more finding itself in conflict with Independent Television?
We are sure of our brief. Let us keep our sights high and make quite sure that the things we do are done as well as they can be.
Let us surround ourselves with the best possible talent; let us treat every programme we do as a means of finding out how to do it better next time. Good luck to all of you who contribute to the making of our programmes. Look out, 1959, here we come!