LONDON — Saturday night primetime TV has killed the reputation of many an enterprising entertainment producer.
So how come Initial Television’s Katherine Allen can’t stop smiling as she approaches the first-ever live Saturday night telecast of this year’s BAFTA Film Awards? In the past the show has always aired in the less-competitive terrain of Sunday evenings. And despite its gaining more credibility as an Oscar bellwether, it’s broadcast on the tiny niche net BBC America in the U.S.
“It’s a little scary,” muses Allen. “But it’s also a great opportunity because the program has been moved from a post-9 p.m. slot on Sundays into the thick of Saturday night peak time.
“I am not going to make any predictions about ratings, but we’ll do our best to make sure we get our highest ever audience.”
Allen and her team knew there was no ducking the challenge when BAFTA told her the kudos ceremony was being shunted from Sunday to Saturday evening.
This was because the date penciled in coincided with the Chinese New Year. The local Chinese population’s celebrations in London’s West End turn Leicester Square (the awards ceremony is held at Leicester Square’s Odeon cinema) into a scene resembling Beijing rush hour — no place for film fans, movie stars or red carpets.
So Saturday night it is. Allen and the broadcaster responsible for transmitting the show — the BBC’s flagship service, BBC1 — have worked hard to beef up this year’s BAFTA Film Awards and broaden the program’s appeal.
More airtime will be devoted to those all-important pre-awards interviews as the stars take to the red carpet.
Co-presenter of BBC1’s Saturday night primetime hit “Strictly Come Dancing” and breakfast TV anchor Natasha Kaplinksy has been signed up for red-carpet duty.
Allen hopes that Kaplinsky’s presence will hit all the right buttons. “We needed someone who was intelligent and who could bring empathy to the stars coming on the red carpet,” she explains. “As ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ has shown, Natasha is someone who appeals to a primetime BBC1 audience. It also helps that she looks beautiful, too.”
Otherwise, the formula will stay the same as the great all-rounder actor-writer-director Stephen Fry takes the stage to hand out the trophies for the fifth successive year. “One reason so many stars and movie luminaries come to London for the awards year after year is because of Stephen,” Allen opines. “He makes it so much fun. Harvey Weinstein said he keeps coming back because of Stephen.”
Of course switching the event ahead of the Oscars in the calendar hasn’t done it any harm either as BBC1 controller Lorraine Heggessey knows. After a period in the doldrums, audience figures for the show have begun to climb.
Heggessey reckons there’s one big thing that has made the show more popular. “Moving it earlier so that it is now a very big pre-Oscar event; it matters more to the whole film community because it is an indicator as to who wins the Oscars.”
BBC America’s broadcast is slated for primetimeon Feb. 12, compete with a red-carpet pre-show, and if the event’s credibility continues to grow, maybe a more mainstream outing will be in the cards.
“BBC1 and BAFTA have worked together to make it a really big TV event and the audience gets a front-row seat which they really appreciate.”
Auds in other territories are getting in on the glitz, too. The show’s distributor, All3Media, reckon that this year’s BAFTA Film Awards could net a potential billion viewers worldwide as the number of territories buying the show has trebled.
All3Media sales topper Louse Pedersen says: “It is now a globally recognized event and we look forward to even more broadcasters wanting to be part of it in the next year.”