Pubcaster turning up nose at popular ITV fare

LONDON — The BBC has run up the white flag in its losing ratings war with ITV, taking refuge in the moral high ground of public-service programming.

That, at least, was the message being peddled by senior BBC execs at the launch of the pubcaster’s spring and summer schedules, which are heavy on science, drama and history, and light on gameshows and docu-soaps.

Primetime ratings on BBC1, the pubcaster’s mainstream channel, have nose-dived in the two weeks since ITV moved its evening news bulletin from 10 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. That has freed the commercial web to construct a much more aggressive primetime schedule, built around blockbuster movies, popular dramas and the smash quizshow “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”

BBC execs are rushing to claim that it is not the pubcaster’s job to compete with such nakedly commercial offerings.

Peter Salmon, controller of BBC1, said, “We want to do more than chase ratings. We have to look across all our strands and make sure we’re not deserting the values of public-service broadcasting. Just being popular is good enough for some, but not good enough for the BBC.”

Highlights of the $520 million spring and summer schedule include a new adaptation of Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations,” starring Charlotte Rampling; and a docu special on tigers presented by David Attenborough.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more