Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Boggen's Advent Calender (Day 25) - Christmas Meant ITV, but what does television mean nowadays at Christmas?

So the search for finding out who did ITV's Christmas Promotions and Trailers goes on, which have fascinated through a article which was sent to me by a friend outlining the start of ITV promoting itself through a seasonal basis of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Christmas split between the big five companies. Those being Thames, Granada, ATV, London Weekend Television and Yorkshire Television, the first of which came in 1969 when ITV did try to do a united effort but this didn't much have an effect to all intrinsic purposes. Where they failed to beat the BBC in 1969, ITV had seemingly gone through a traumatic year in 1970.

1970 for ITV meant a colour strike and union strife, meaning that where airtime was sold at a lower rather then a higher rate that colour broadcasts brought to the companies themselves. So Thames took it on themselves to come up with something for that year's Christmas to use on all companies but more importantly an ITV branding which was already being used on other programming that the network was showing.

But the original idea seemingly was to come from London Weekend but with Michael Peacock having gone in 1969 meant Muir Sutherland, an executive at Thames led a committee to come up with what ITV were going to use for Christmas 1970. The other companies put in the financial support to do so, this meant that Ron Walsby who had previously been at ABC before Thames came up with the promotions which was delivered via inter-company lines to all the companies throughout the network. But one problem was the Colour Strike still on going at the time, meant the promotions were seen in black and white on viewers' screens. 

To come out of all of this was a scheme where each season was give to one of the big five companies, sharing out responsibility equally among them, but as Winter 1971 followed on so shortly on from Christmas, this meant there was a jump to Spring 1971 seemingly Thames taking on responsibility for the Winter schedule as well, but this was to see what effect the promotions had at Christmas, if they were a good thing to continue in this way. Though in 1968, London Weekend had to be persuaded to spend more money on their on screen promotions when advertisers were paying good money to advertise with them. 

As the 1970's went on, the big five companies shared out duties between themselves but with some many big voices shouting all at once to promote their programmes as well as such big personalities in the management of each of Thames, LWT, ATV, Granada and Yorkshire wanting to push their wares on the ITV network. But as the BBC went into the Christmas of 1977 with one of their strongest festive programme line ups ever, ITV had to respond as the fight for viewers were becoming more competitive as ever. 

This meant ITV had to up their game as they had in 1970 with a campaign which was memorable even if the programmes may not have been like the BBC's. Though the 1977 promotions fell upon Granada for this year, not only with an animated Father Christmas cartoon going around delivering his presents as well as the very catchy 'Robin Song' behind the trailers made for a bright and cheerful set of promotions and trailers. The New Year's trailers are just the generic Granada trailers even using their own slides but with a 'New Year on ITV' ident where the usual Granada ident is placed.

Such with the promotions, that they used the companies own announcers to voice them meaning that voices not usually heard outside their own regions got an airing on ITV over Christmas, Malcolm Brown later of TVS was to be heard on the 1977 and 1980 Christmas promotions both done by Granada. 

1978 saw the promotions done by ATV, with a very cosy style of promotion very much different to 1977's effort. Taking inspiration from a traditional Christmas, by using three animated candles with a gold and red font these promotions hark back to a more traditional time seemingly less commercial but never the less adaptable to each regions own needs. With this being the first year of Morecambe and Wise on ITV since their move there after the previous year's Christmas special for the BBC and also Bruce Forsyth's big money move, the promotional package had to be a strong one with no doubts Thames and LWT wanting it to be as competitive as it could be to show off their assets and the whole network's assets as whole. Compared to 1977, the package offered up for 1978 is as good as any which had gone before it and proved ITV were getting stronger in promoting what they had as well as the BBC could do and they had the stars to prove it as well. 

The commercial network offered Bruce Forsyth on Christmas Eve and the movie premiere Charade as well, with the day before Christmas falling on a Sunday meant that LWT and Michael Grade was in charge, so his and ITV's biggest signing could appear on Christmas Eve itself to somehow recoup some pride from what Bruce Forsyth's Big Night had done for the network as a whole over the the Autumn season. However with the big day falling on a Monday, this gave Thames the upper hand with the main part of the evening turned over to the premiere of 'Diamonds are Forever', The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show of which this was Eric and Ernie's first one since their return to ITV and also a 'This is Your Life' special as well. 

Where as 1970 had been tough year for ITV, 1979 was to be its toughest year to date with the network totally wiped out by a ten week strike. The autumn season only starting in late October when the channel came back on air, leaving it very little time to regain viewers who had come to the network in the previous twelve months, in putting on a big show for ITV's return on the 24th of October. The Christmas promotion seemed slightly staid, with a Christmas card type of scene of a village as its main identity, however the menus and trailers seem very sparse indeed, almost understated in their approach. Seemingly the promotions and trailers done by Yorkshire were to be just that with the channel still finding its feet after such a long time away and viewers still loyal to the BBC.

However for the programmes, they offered as strong a line up as it had been in years, but with a familiar look to it too with 'The Three Musketeers' as the big film, Eric and Ernie on their second Christmas special since moving back and also 'This is Your Life' once again. Tried and tested it was for ITV, but as a recovering network they need to make their Christmas line up and promotion even better.

Come 1980, the honour once again of promoting ITV at Christmas fell to Granada yet again. Compared to Yorkshire's sparse effort of the previous year, the company for the North West of England decided to follow the same pattern as they had done for 1977, animated promotions and a catchy tune to go behind them. By using a wrapping paper and gift tag motif, they made it simple where as the BBC's efforts were getting overblown by this point. Granada known for their understated promotions, made something something which captured the new decade perfectly with its minimalism and also synthesizer backing track, showed that the promotion could be simplistic but effective. 

Much could be said about the schedule as well, 3-2-1, James Bond in 'The Man with the Golden Gun', Morecambe and Wise as well as This is Your Life. The same schedule almost for the third year in a row, by now the predictable nature of the Christmas Day schedule of ITV was starting to see the viewers get used to what was going to be on at a certain time in the evening, as much as they enjoyed the programming, there was a danger of also alienating them by having not much choice at all.

Something had to be done and in 1981, that something was a freshening up of both programmes and also a more exciting look to Christmas on ITV. By taking ideas used previously such as a Christmas scene in a urban setting, using Father Christmas flying his sleigh and also a star in the sky made for another Christmas card scene yet again. Different company, different ideas. But Thames came up with the promotions this time round, offering their take on how a promotion should be used and almost very BBC in style.

Yet with the big day falling on a Friday, this also meant a split in who was going to offer up the programmes themselves. This first part of Christmas Day meant that Thames could offer up Dr No after the Queen's Speech and also This is Your Life but much earlier in the evening than previous years, but the main movie of the day came from Lew Grade of which The Muppet Movie was shown at 5.50pm leading through the time that Thames handed over to LWT at 7pm. Meaning this could have been a deliberate ploy to allow the handover to go on in secret with ATV holding the fort. Though with LWT in charge, this allowed them to show their big hit of the year and away from The Generation Game on BBC 1 which had appeared after the Queen's Speech. Game for a Laugh produced by Alan Boyd, had fought off his previous show and stood proudly on Christmas Day, this was backed up with the third edition of It'll Be Alright on the Night another LWT production meaning that ITV could put out a different schedule than in previous years. But for the first time in a very long time Morecambe and Wise were not on either channel on Christmas Day, with their Christmas Special appearing on the 23rd of December when Thames put it in the slot where London Night Out with Tom O' Connor usually appeared, meaning that went to Christmas Eve at Eight o' clock in the evening.

Overall ITV's Christmas in 1981 had been different, as such revitalized itself once again. Though much thanks to the actual system of ITV then its programmes, with LWT taking the lead on Christmas Day, the commercial channel's schedule seemed a lot strong then it had done for years.

1982 brought the usual Christmas card scene for the promotions, but with the voice-over by Michael Aspel made them seem like effort was taken to get the promotions right and that they should be done properly. The lessons had been learned that ITV could get their Christmas look right, with more companies adopting it for their own in vision continuity spots. Meaning a good look could be universal through the ITV network and what they'd wanted for years, something which bring their identity to the fore. 

Such with Channel 4 having been launched in November, this was more then important with viewers able to pick from four channels and another commercial channel for a start. The ITV brand was getting used a lot more than it had been previously, but still they had no ident of themselves to speak of so they could not have a clear identity on their own promotional trailers.

With Christmas Day falling on a Saturday, meaning that LWT could have the whole day with no Thames programmes having to fit into the schedule. Which meant for the second year in a row, no place for Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise on the big day yet again. They would have to wait till the 27th and Thames to return. Yet, for the BBC's schedule on Christmas Day, the reliance on LWT meant that at the start of the day, the film Journey Back to Oz wasn't much entertainment at all and with Christmas Parade on BBC 1 it seemed like Christmas Day early on for both channels didn't seem to want to get started at all.

The actual schedules on both BBC 1 and ITV didn't started until after the early evening news had finished, however with LWT calling the shots, ITV went headlong into their schedule with a little help from Yorkshire Television and their festive edition of 3-2-1 at 5.35pm but there on in for the main part of the evening was all LWT made programmes. This meant an appearance for the second Christmas in a row of Game for a Laugh followed by Bruce Forsyth in Play Your Cards Right, the movie premiere of Disney's 'The Black Hole' followed and after that, Chas and Dave had their Xmas Knees-up including guests such as Eric Clapton and Jim Davidson. 

ITV had the might of LWT to provide programmes for them on Christmas Day, so finally they had taken on the BBC and gave them a real fright, but as such they still did not have an identity which they could call their own. In 1983, all that changed.

Christmas Day fell on a Sunday meaning LWT called the shots in programmes, yet again for ITV but the promotions went from them to Central, who took the theme of presents and decided to give them an eighties spin, literally. The present and gift tag idea used by Granada in 1980 combined with flying objects such as crackers, ribbons and presents but it did have an odd effect of like staring into a Christmas vortex with so many flying objects, with this being the year of ITV's 3D-TV experiment, it seemed like Central had taken it to the extreme somewhat. Though finally ITV had adopted their look and a first ident for the network used on screen. 

With drawing out the big hitters such as Superman - The Movie, Bullseye, a Royal Carol Concert, Play Your Cards Right and Jimmy Tarbuck reviving a sort of All Star Comedy Carnival/Christmas Night with the Stars calling it his 'Christmas All Stars' including the cream of ITV's and LWT's talent along with satellite links with the stars of Hart to Hart and Andy Williams. The strength in depth made ITV's Christmas strong however, the BBC used their stars in their own shows and played to their strength knocking ITV back somewhat from where they had been in the previous two years. 

As with most things, the computer graphics age was transforming television presentation and this was none more evident in 1984. But with Christmas falling on a Tuesday, ITV could not rely on LWT to help them this year, where as the BBC had been lackluster in the past few years, it was formerly one of there own which would be going up against ITV. Michael Grade had joined as the Controller of BBC 1 in 1984, as such he wanted to put on a show against ITV, Where as the BBC freshened up their line-up it seemed out of place somewhat.

For their literal Christmas Card look with flying train, Granada who provided the look made the effort to make it look modern, but modern doesn't always look right and 1984's look compared to BBC 1's looked sparse and almost bleak, the hard sell was there for the programmes but yet it feels cold and uninviting. Even the programmes apart from the Eric Morecambe tribute at 6pm don't have an effect at all. Making the line-up seem almost humdrum in comparison to what the BBC had on offer. Michael Grade knew how to construct a schedule and it would take a lot for ITV come back and properly challenge BBC 1.

Fast forward to 2014, today and BBC 1 are relying on the same programmes they have done for the past couple of years, Strictly Come Dancing looming large in the schedules along with Dr Who and Call the Midwife, ITV seems not to compete at all largely with just celebrity lead documentaries for most of the afternoon and early evening, with the later part of the evening not entertaining at all. Maybe its time for a change, after so many years the viewing public are getting bored of the same old thing again. So something is needed to happen to wake ITV on Christmas Day out of its comatose state, which it has been in for many years now. 

Where as the BBC cannot rely on the same programmes year after year, it would be surprising that people might go to on demand services and DVD's for their entertainment this year. Television faces the same problem as it did in the mid-1980's with the rise of home computers and VCR's. Innovation is the key for channels nowadays and there is very little of that on Christmas Day. 

So what will I be doing on Christmas Day? Pretty much what everyone else will be doing as usual, but in this multi-channel age I will be flicking around the many channels out there. As I have to say that television has let me down now, without serious thinking it could be looking at a very tough future for itself at Christmas.

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