MEDIA: THE FORSYTE SAGA - AN EXPERT'S VIEW. Adam Smith is full of praise for ITV's remake of the acclaimed 60s classic UK costume drama

BBC2 filmed the original version of The Forsyte Saga in black and white - the last UK drama to be done so - to save money, as back in the 60s the channel was still only available to a minority of homes.

In the event, an average of six million watched it - three times today's BBC2 peak average, despite universal reach - and BBC1 repeats did 18 million, only two million behind today's all-channel total in peak.

Someone in Hollywood owns the rights, and anyone could have remade it at any time. We're pleased ITV did, because we can advertise in it.

The new Forsyte Saga is arguably the best piece of work the ten-year-old ITV Network Centre has produced. It will be no surprise if the critics shift into The Jewel in The Crown mode and acclaim this the drama of the year.

What makes it so good? Impeccable casting and acting; non-stop narrative that demands attention; cinematic attitude and accuracy of the £1.2-million-per-hour kind; and the sheer abundance of confidence and taste. It is an unbeatable combination of the classic and popular, of period drama and modern soap. ITV has already commissioned the follow-up.

It is a welcome surprise for other reasons, too. ITV has been in its own private recession for a year and a half, exacerbated by the digital platform which is on the way to soaking up the equivalent of two years' ITV1 primetime programme budget. On-screen economies are probably inevitable, but The Forsyte Saga is clearly not one of them. Nor does The Forsyte Saga depend on ITV's stable of expensive contracted talent - such as Ross Kemp or Sarah Lancashire - which has disappointed over the past year or so. The Forsyte Saga is the product of classic ITV strengths, untrammelled by the craft and creative asphyxiates of focus group, formula, and political correctness.

We are not aware of any serious BBC competition, but it barely matters.

Forsyte is pitching for a 40 per cent share and the advertising profile that early Inspector Morse and Prime Suspect used to do - AB, 35-plus and with more men in the mix than a typical ITV drama. This sort of audience gives campaigns the rapid and efficient coverage, which, for all the abundance of new and smaller media, remains the engine of successful national advertising, and which also remains the sole preserve of ITV1 in broadcast media. There are, of course, many ways to replicate a similar coverage-and-frequency pattern from the ITV schedule, but few with the editorial cachet of top-drawer drama. Robot optimisers and media-auditing price pools cannot help you here.

Forsyte will be a morale booster for ITV too. It's about time it reminded itself what it's best at.

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