Media: A moment with Marquis

Saturday night used to be a time-buyer's hell. Crap ratings, lousy programmes and, as the shops were closed the next day, cheap airtime with no selling power. And, so the despondent myth continued, everyone went out on Saturday night anyway. ITV, dominant Monday to Friday, handed Saturday night to the BBC without a fight.

Now look at it. With Sunday firmly established as the shopping day of choice, Saturday night has become worth the ratings tussle and the result is heart-stirring, sexy, brilliant television - on all channels.

I mean, how wonderful is Strictly Come Dancing? No, really. It's the competitive, vibrant, funny update of the ancient and rather twee Come Dancing - but with added hormones. Julian Clary is torn between leading his lady in an almost convincingly masculine fashion and wallowing in the glorious campness of the whole thing. Denise Lewis, the athlete, reveals that as well as rippling muscles she has twinkling toes and snake hips, in a samba that will have had many an old codger peering round the edge of the newspaper. It's pure magic.

Just before the end, the discerning viewer must channel-hop furiously with ITV, where Simon Cowell is smiling satanically as he consigns would-be stars to eternal obscurity on The X Factor. Anyone who gives this programme a minute is guaranteed to be there when the credits roll. I was brought up on Hughie Green being sickeningly nice to everyone on Opportunity Knocks.

The X Factor's raw brutality makes it irresistibly better viewing.

Last Saturday, Sharon Osbourne refused to vote off either of her "babies", while Cowell threatened to dump the best act to give his proteges a better chance, before finally axing the teenage diva Cassie. The X Factor certainly has the X factor. I know urban sophisticates who are turning down glamorous pre-Christmas soirees so as not to miss the unfolding drama.

But there's no respite at 8 o' clock. Ten years on, Millionaire is still the best quiz show ever devised. Last week produced a classic: a miner turned student, blazing an emotional trail, with bear hugs for Chris Tarrant, all the way to £250,000.

I gave up at 9pm, drained, hungry and desperate for a pee. While it may be true to say that the serious stuff on television has been dumbed down over the years, popular entertainment has surely never been in sharper form, delivering to viewer and advertiser alike. It's almost enough to make me want to be a time-buyer again.

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