Webs duel for timeslot

ITV, BBC engaged in battle of the pricey costume drama

LONDON — Commercial web ITV and pubcaster the BBC are at loggerheads over the scheduling of two flagship costume dramas this fall.

ITV, which lost its No. 1 spot to the BBC this year, has begged the pubcaster not to air Victorian tale “Daniel Deronda” head-to-head against its television remake of “Dr. Zhivago.”

ITV, battling an advertising slump, has invested £7 million ($11 million) in the three-part adaptation of Boris Pasternak’s novel about the Russian revolution and can ill afford a failure.

But it will have a tough time if the BBC airs 19th-century author George Eliot’s “Daniel Deronda,” starring Edward Fox, Greta Scacchi and Barbara Hershey, in the same timeslot.

Going for the kill

ITV bosses are increasingly incensed by the cash-rich pubcaster’s aggressive scheduling when the commercial network tries to raise its game and produce more challenging, upscale television.

The BBC has not disclosed scheduling plans for “Deronda.” “Zhivago” will go out on Sunday, Nov. 24, possibly at 9 p.m., the traditional timeslot for BBC period drama. ITV argues it cannot move the drama because advertising has already been sold around it.

“The slot they want to put ‘Dr. Zhivago’ in is the slot where we play our costume drama,” says a BBC rep. “We have ‘Daniel Deronda’ waiting to go. Our duty is to schedule our programs in the best interest of viewers.”

But critics claim forcing viewers to choose is not in the best interest of broadcaster or audience.

Both broadcasters lost viewers three years ago when ITV’s Alan Bleasdale adaptation of “Oliver Twist” went head-to-head with BBC1’s “Wives and Daughters.”

In April, ITV’s “The Forsyte Saga” lost 2.3 million viewers on its second outing to the competition from the second part of BBC1’s two-part thriller “The Secret”; latter wrapped with 5.5 million viewers and a 24% share from 9-10 p.m.

ITV cannot afford to see its expensive dramas fail. Back in May, the commercial network’s drama controller Nick Elliott revealed the web had stockpiled at least a dozen dramas, including an adaptation of “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” because it could not afford to broadcast them at a time when its finances are being squeezed.

The money ITV invests in programming is only recorded as having been spent when a show is transmitted.

Most dramas were replaced with documentaries, which are cheaper to produce.

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