Miss Marple is not going to solve ITV's problems alone

While some in the Campaign office were salivating at the prospect of being sandwiched between Monica Lewinsky and Rebecca Loos at the Edinburgh TV Festival (the pair are participating in a session on payment for TV interviews), I was getting all worked up over a tweed-clad septuagenarian spinster, writes Ian Darby.

More specifically, about the return of Miss Marple to our TV screens as part of ITV's autumn schedule. A personal favourite of mine following the BBC's quality adaptations of the Agatha Christie books in the 80s, Miss Marple forms part of an autumn line-up dominated by drama. I only hope that ITV does a good job of updating the elderly heroine.

More importantly, ITV desperately needs a strong autumn as agency estimates suggest its share of commercial impacts is down significantly on last year. Under the Contract Rights Renewal mechanism, it could face a fall in revenues next year with a large chunk of its advertising going elsewhere.

And it is faced with chasing the most difficult audiences to win (ABC1 adults and 16- to 34-year-old men). Barb data showed ITV impacts for these audiences were down by 7% and 10% respectively during the first five months of the year.

The autumn schedule is an impressive attempt to win back this lost ground. Quality drama, targeting ABC1 men and women, is the strong point of the schedule, with Miss Marple joined by Stephen Fry in a remake of the classic 'Tom Brown's Schooldays' and supported by original drama featuring the likes of Ray Winstone, Brenda Blethyn and James Nesbitt. The capture of Parky to host a Saturday-night chatshow should also boost ITV's ABC1 impacts.

Nigel Pickard, ITV's director of programmes, deserves praise for continuing ITV's investment in drama alongside its commitment to so-called "pikey TV" (the return of Holiday Showdown and a new series called Britain's Youngest Mums and Dads).

But most of the national press attention has focused on ITV's entertainment line-up, which will be crucial for its capture of young viewers. It has pretty much gone for safe bankers here -- Ant and Dec in 'Saturday Night Takeaway' and Simon Cowell in 'The X-Factor', yet another talent search. Ratings will undoubtedly be boosted by another series of 'I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!' and the growth of ITV2 is a cause for cheer for ITV as it serves up extra coverage of its reality offerings.

But despite its strong schedule, I suspect ITV will still be in the mire at the end of the year. In autumn 2003, it had 'The Premiership' and 'Rugby World Cup' to boost its audience of 16- to 34-year-old men. This year it has neither. You don't have to be as sharp as Miss Marple to work out it has a near-impossible task to match this with the new schedule.

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