Planning the Christmas TV schedule

Monday 7 December 2009, 16:46

George Dixon George Dixon

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When I was growing up I used to wait eagerly for the Christmas schedule to see what delights would be coming on television in late December. I still get the same excitement seeing the final Christmas schedules, but for different reasons. As Head of Scheduling for BBC Vision I oversee the plans for five television channels and BBC One in particular. It's a privilege to be responsible for the BBC One schedule over such an important time of year, but I'm always anxious that our channels live up to the expectations of all our viewers.

After each year's Christmas schedule has transmitted we receive lots of detailed feedback from viewers. My job is to translate that into our plans for the following year. Audiences have high expectations of Christmas television, whether they're watching as part of a big family or in a smaller group. Surprisingly, more than a quarter of the audience on Christmas Day will be watching alone. Another quarter of the audience will be watching with children. And the remaining 47% will be watching in a group with no children. So when we create the Christmas schedule for BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC Four and the HD channel, we have to finely balance the programmes and schedule to deliver to these distinct audiences.

In addition, the mindset for viewing at Christmas can be contradictory. We enjoy seeking out new programmes, but at the same time many viewers say they're unwilling to 'take risks' when choosing programmes. This is consistently reflected in the numbers of people who love seeing classic television at Christmas such as comedy or vintage films. This need for familiarity could also be down to the desire to keep other people who are watching with you happy. Viewers also tell us that often television is playing as a 'background' over Christmas. So programmes that are lighter in tone and that can be easily dipped in and out of frequently prove popular.

Taking all of this into account, it's easy to see why some of the most popular programmes over the years have been comedy and entertainment specials featuring the biggest stars of the day, blockbuster family films, and high-octane storylines in series such as EastEnders. Den serving Angie with divorce papers in 1986 remains one of the most enduring Christmas Day specials for over two decades. And I hope people anticipate the Royle Family special at Christmas in the same way that people used to look forward to Morecambe and Wise.

This year's highlights include David Tennant's mesmerising performances in his final Doctor Who episodes and also as Hamlet. In comedy, alongside celebrations of Not the Nine O'Clock News, June Whitfield and Steve Coogan, we have brand new specials from Catherine Tate, The Royle Family and Outnumbered. In arts we have a celebration of the life and work of Orson Welles, plus a new documentary that examines the story behind one of the world's most admired nativity paintings, the Mystic Nativity by Botticelli. There's also a wide range of music - from Top of the Pops, Sting's Winter Songbook, Jools's Annual Hootenanny and Songs of Praise from Jerusalem to our live Christmas morning service from Chester Cathedral. I'd argue that this selection is indicative of an unrivalled, high-quality line-up from the BBC, offering something for everyone. So although for obvious reasons I can no longer eagerly await the Christmas schedule, I'm already looking forward to seeing how viewers react to our programmes. I'm planning Christmas 2010 already and I'd love to know what audiences are looking for next year.

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    Comment number 1.

    Why do you now start the Christmas Idents between the programmes so soon. When I was a kid, they didn't start until Christmas Eve morning. This year the one with David Tennant started on Saturday 12 December. By the time we get to Christmas Day, I will be sick of seeing it.

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    Comment number 2.


    That is good idea, for planning the X-MAS schedule.....

    =Dennis Junior=

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    Comment number 3.

    #1. At 12:07pm on 16 Dec 2009, Captjackass wrote:

    "Why do you now start the Christmas Idents between the programmes so soon."

    It's the 'meerkating' departments fault, they think that a Dr Who fan will some how go off and watch the competition forgetting all about the BBC's offerings - these 'meerkating' people seem to think that the general public have the same nano-second memory span as they do...

    Anyway, thanks for another really great selection of Christmas TV offerings, once again I suspect that the radio will take pride of place over the TV set again this year, far to much populist 'tat' on BBC TV again (IMO), so it looks like it the radio offerings once again.

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    Comment number 4.

    Just a pity then you couldn't actually do the schedule properly:

    - Moving Live At The Apollo and QI here, there and everywhere over Christmas
    - Several series' starting too late so they find the shunted around at Christmas (i.e. Impressions Show)
    - Moving QI to 8.30pm against Coronation Street in January
    - Commissioning Big Top without even reading a word of the script (it's Audience Appreciation number was beyond crap)
    - Outnumbered Christmas Special on Sunday 27th December at 10.30pm; similar story for After You've Gone

    I fail to see how the Xmas Schedule took a lot of planning.

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    Comment number 5.

    I think they be alot of films they could show on the 21st to 23rd December that will being in more viewers then Cash In The Attic. Good place to put The Borrowers

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    Comment number 6.

    And I hope people anticipate the Royle Family special at Christmas in the same way that people used to look forward to Morecambe and Wise.

    Are you for real, with a statement like that?

    From 6pm on there is nothing of interest on BBC1.
    Dr Who - Kids show
    Strictly - Flogged to death for weeks
    Eastenders - you quote a memory from 20 years ago - the last time EE's was interesting.
    The Royle Family - Wasn't funny the last time you resurrected it.
    Gavin & Stacey - Out on DVD already.
    Catherine Tate - Catchphrase "comedy" and lower viewing figures than Still Game when it was on BBC Two Comedy Zone. Funny how that never got the same level of coverage on BBC 1

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    Comment number 7.

    Whilst we all understand that Christmas is a time for family entertainment, it must never be forgotten that there are hundreds of thousands of singletons ( many of whom are semi-retired with a high thinking capacity)who will spend a lot of time watch the BOX over the festive period to fill in time.
    What did they have to watch this year. Eastenders, films on Santa Claus,Apollo (with its vulgar comedy)Strictly (done to death)Royle family and Gavin/Stacey (how can people watch these!)Pirates of the Caribbean (oh my god what a stupid film) and all those repeats.
    What happened to the adventure films, great documentaries and travel programmes.
    Dr Who was your blockbuster for this year, but what a let down (did anyone understand it?)and as for the Triffids=- well great book but I was bored with your 3 hour rendition.
    Am I alone when I see christmas for great films.
    Really there is more to life than cheap comedy, working class soaps and programmes for children? or am I a snob?
    Jon Grainge

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    Comment number 8.

    I am in complete agreement with Jon Grainge. What ever happened to the epic adventure movies on Christmas Day afternoon? Like Mr Grainge we do not have children so really didn't appreciate that the majority of daytime viewing over the Christmas period. Much too childish!!! The BBC must remember when scheduling that there are a wide range of ages watching these programmes.

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    Comment number 9.

    Even though Christmas is a time for families, the BBC who now controls 4 channels and able to offer a more mixed choice to viewers instead of the daily non stop diet of childrens films then moving on to the teenage clamour of brain numbing "Strictly and Eastenders" with no attempt to offer any choice for child free households.
    Going back to my childhood we were too excited and occupied by visiters to my home than sit there watching TV films, my parents timed lunch to coincide with the Queens speech after which it was back to playing with our latest toys.
    So why this feelings that the population is waiting for the same old tired films because the modern child will be playing the latest computer games and their only need for the TV is to combine it with these games.
    Are we telling the BBC what they do not already know? of course not, they are part of the modern household, but it's lazyness on their part and shows complete contempt for it's subscribers.

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    Comment number 10.

    Hello and thanks for your comments. You may be interested to read a post by David Bunker which asks Are we still in love with Christmas TV? In it he talks about what was popular over the Christmas period.

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    Comment number 11.

    What planet does George Dixon live on. I fully concur with the comments made by LON GRAINGE,JOAN SMYTH and THOMAS GUY.

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    Comment number 12.

    I was disappointed with the Christmas programmes. I think that most of the day time output is aimed at children who are the ones with all the new toys, games play with. The people who may be depending on the TV for their entertainment are older people who may be alone for much of the Christmas period. Talking to the people who live in the sheltered housing where my 92 year old mother lives they were all of the same opinion. There was little on any channel during the day that they would watch. Perhaps this could be considered next year.

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    Comment number 13.

    I concurr with all the criticisms above but would like to add;-
    Whilst there is a facility and potential for feedback from the viewers how many do bother to use it? In view of the way Mr.Dixon has manifested his rationale for Christmas schuduling of TV programmes it seems that he feels quite self-satisfied that his judgement is correct. My view is that he is wrong and it is a waste of time in disagreeing with him.I will expect more of the same next year. I can do one of several things;-
    Refuse to pay my TV licence, go to court/gaol, and make as much fuss as possible in the media,emigrate, arrange for Al-Qaeda to pay Mr.Dixon a visit, or aquire a stack of reading material and strong liquor before next Christmas and get through Christmas TV hell totally oblivious to it all.I am fed up with the ineffectual attitudes and bleating of the civil service an the Corporation and wish they would eneter the real world. I hope the Tories will sort out the BBC and their senior staff when they get in.


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