Where is ITV's Doctor Who?
Rob looks at what ITV could do to turn around its offering of sci-fi...
Now that it's cancelled Primeval, it seems that sci-fi and fantasy are off the menu at ITV. With Demons being a weak imitation of Buffy, it seems that ITV cannot get the mixture right for a show that has an appeal and cult following akin to the BBC's Doctor Who.
However, that was not always the case. ITV, or as it was back in the 1970s and 80s in its various regional components (such as Central, Anglia, Granada etc), produced some excellent genre television. Shows such as Robin Of Sherwood, Hammer House Of Horror, The Prisoner, Sapphire And Steel and Tales Of The Unexpected were regulars on the ITV network. Since the absorption of these local broadcasters into ITV PLC, the diversity has gone and so too, it seems, is the imagination and willpower to produce quality shows.
The idea behind this merger of all these regional channels and the creation of ITV PLC was for commercial TV to ‘maximise the investment in quality programming which will support and possibly increase its viewing shares'. ITV PLC believed that there would be significant benefits for viewers, advertisers and shareholders, although it seems to have had the opposite effect.
What ITV should do is look back into its archive. The BBC, over the past few years has, of course, done this with Doctor Who. Russell T Davies, for all his online detractors, cannot help but have praise showered on him for being such a fan and champion for the show and re-invigorating the concept into a programme that is loved by young and old fans alike. With Blake's 7 waiting in the wings, the Beeb have looked through what television legends they have, dusted them off and flown with them. So why not ITV?
Looking to the past of ITV there are certain figures who the current crop of producers and schedulers should look to for inspiration. The first is Lew Grade, who started to commission TV shows in the 1950s and, without any experience in the television marketplace, saw two important factors - what the public wanted and how to deliver it - and managed to accomplish both. Grade famously said, "To hold our viewers we will aim to spend more money on scripts and production values. Stars are important but not as important as a good scriptwriter. A good scriptwriter is a wonderful thing." Again, something that producers should take note of.
Grade was the force behind introducing the Muppets to a British audience (way back in 1976), giving Jim Henson an outlet for his loved characters (and as an homage, the character of Dr Bunsen was loosely based on Grade). But more importantly Grade was also the power behind ATV, a company that had a canny eye for talent.
In 1962, Grade purchased independent production house, AP Films, a company founded by Gerry Anderson. Anderson had a reputation for producing high quality children's TV programming such as Supercar, Stingray and Captain Scarlet. And between Grade and Anderson these puppet shows, followed by numerous live action shows similar in style, were produced, including UFO and Space 1999. However, it was Thunderbirds that really was the show that stood out and made the most impact.
Thunderbirds is adored by young and old fans - dads, teens and kids love it, and whether it was those who saw the show when it was first broadcast, or made Tracy Island from plans given out by Blue Peter in the 1990s or those who watched repeats on satellite, Thunderbirds is a show that ITV should be looking at as a way of bringing entertainment back, and a show that could potentially be their answer to Doctor Who.
The rights for Thunderbirds are currently in a state of flux, but careful management and the right direction could really lead to a potential revival, along with a solution for flagging ratings and mediocre content for ITV. Anderson is a legend and Thunderbirds is one of the shows that ITV should care and tend for as, quite frankly, it's a piece of TV national treasure.
Really, as a channel ITV have very little to offer at the moment and a remake of this (and a new Muppet Show too) would not go amiss. It's something that they should look into. Lew Grade was right with the famous quote "Give them what they want" and Thunderbirds is something that a lot of people love and remember (apart from the recent film... which was crap) and a lot better than a lot of ITV drama or general content they have.
It could yet be ITV's Doctor Who.