Just like any other walk of life, television has developed into a cut throat competitive world with big money and even bigger expectations. The rivalry between the BBC and ITV is well documented in the annals of British entertainment but now there’s another competitor on the horizon which threatens to eradicate this sixty year battle for supremacy. We’ve already seen Netflix’s audiences rapidly increase since 2016 thanks in part to the influx of original drama content with series such as The Crown, but one genre has so far eluded them. Yes, it seems that in terms of Light entertainment, television still has the monopoly and you’ve only got to look at the TV listings, including the return of Dancing on Ice, to realise this.
On Sunday 7th January, ITV’s celebrity dancing show returned after a four year hiatus reuniting Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby on the show that first made them a presenting team. The rival for the heavyweight Strictly Come Dancing made its long awaited return with a cast including Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker, reality star Kem Cetinay and winner of The Great British Bake Off Candice Brown (is she a celebrity?). With a disappointing 5.2 million viewers tuning into this week’s episode, it seems that there’s a dark cloud of uncertainty as to the future of Dancing On Ice and perhaps a tidy reminder to ITV that you can’t always replicate success by slightly changing a winning formula.
Of course replicating TV shows between rival networks is nothing new, in fact it’s probably as old as ITV itself. Yet throughout the 1970’s the battle for television supremacy was arguably at its peak and television management would go to extreme lengths to see their shows prevail. Whatever was in vogue on the BBC was almost instantaneously taken to ATV where they carefully devised a similar show which wouldn’t interfere with the trademark of its original incarnation. Below is a detailed list of some of the most prolific examples:
Probably the earliest example of Britain’s television’s fads and fashions. Sunday Night at the Palladium was a collaboration between ATV mogul Lew Grade and Palladium manager Val Parnell who coaxed the biggest stars in the world on to this Variety extravaganza which became the catalyst for the popularity of commercial television. It took the BBC and Bill Cotton thirteen years to come up with a suitable equivalent. The Cilla show was first broadcasted in January 1968 and featured musical and comedy acts. In the succeeding years everyone from Engelbert Humperdinck to Petula Clark had their own Variety show which rivalled ATV’s Palladium show.
Beginning in 1949, before Simon Cowell was even a twinkle in his dad’s eye, Hughie Green welcomed members of the public to showcase their talent in front of the watching nation. Axed after just one series on the BBC, Opportunity Knocks was reinvented on ATV in 1956 and survived for twenty two years. Yet this wasn’t the end for the grandfather of the British talent show as in 1987 it was returned to the BBC with Bob Monkhouse at the helm. Over the years, Opportunity Knocks was responsible for the birth of a plethora of future stars including: Freddie Starr, Su Pollard, Frank Carson and Bonnie Langford.
Broadcast from 1973 to 1988, New Faces was the direct rival for Opportunity Knocks despite being on the same channel for at least a year. The first series was won by comedian Marti Caine who later returned to the show as presenter. In its time New Faces became responsible for launching the careers of household names including Victoria Wood, Lenny Henry and Jim Davidson. This was the first programme to make the judging process an integral part of the show and boasted a formidable panel consisting of entertainment royalty such as Terry Wogan, Lionel Blair, Noel Edmonds and of course Tony Hatch.
Strictly Come Dancing proved the surprise Saturday night hit for the BBC in 2004 when 7.7 million viewers tuned in to watch eight famous faces take to the dancefloor for the very first time. Thought to be merely a summer filler, Strictly captured the heart of the nation as we became invested in the developing relationships between the celebrities and their professional partners. This team dynamic is extremely difficult to replicate on a singing contest and while ITV relied upon Simon Cowell and The X Factor to win back the share of the watching audience, ITV realised that ultimately they required a dance show equivalent.
In 2006 ITV finally hit back at the dancing revolution with Dancing On Ice in which celebrities are teamed up with professional dancers as they learn how to figure skate. More glamourised than its BBC competitor, Dancing On Ice introduced a touch of Hollywood sparkle to the traditional dance show packed full of jingles and impromptu sound effects. No live band meant that all routines were performed to recorded music tracks. In short, it was and still remains the entertainment equivalent to a corner shop while Strictly could be considered the M&S!
So who knows what will be the next major television fad which will once again get the TV networks fighting for supremacy? And in some ways this is one of the many joys of being a television fan; you have no idea where it’s going to take you next. Yet one thing is for certain; while there’s healthy competition between the mainstream broadcasters, a high standard of entertainment shall remain. So if you’re a Strictly fan or like a bit of Simon Cowell, we’re each doing our own small bit to keep entertainment alive. So let the battle for television supremacy live on!