Shows like Downton Abbey, Call the Midwife and Doctor Who are part of a trend that has seen drama replace light entertainment as the dominant genre during peak time Christmas Day viewing, according to a survey by Radio Times.
We looked at BBC1 schedules from 1952, 1972, 1992 and 2012, categorising the programmes by genre – children’s, religious and Christmas, comedy, entertainment, drama, films and news and weather – to explore how programming has changed over the years.
Drama accounts for 80% more television in 2012 than it did 20 years ago, while entertainment shows are 45% less prevalent in the schedules.
This year, 13.5% of all Christmas Day programming is drama, up from 7.5% in 1992 (all of which were soaps: EastEnders, Neighbours and Eldorado). No drama at all was scheduled on Christmas Day in 1972 or 1952. Conversely, family light entertainment was dominant in the Christmas Day schedules back then, accounting for 25% and 55% of the total programmes broadcast, respectively, but has fallen to just 9% in 2012.
Repeats have increased by 14% since 1992, while 40 years ago there were none at all on Christmas Day.
Meanwhile, children have never had it so good – shows aimed at them, such as animated adaptation Room on the Broom, account for almost two hours of the BBC1 schedule this year, compared with just 15 minutes in 1972.
Radio Times Television Editor Alison Graham said of the increase in drama: “It’s a delight to know that TV drama is flourishing and is right at the heart of families’ Christmas celebrations. After decades of films, light entertainment and comedies uniting everyone around their tellies, times have changed and there’s a new tradition – one we should all encourage – of home-grown, quality drama bringing us all together.”
Editor Ben Preston added: "Some people say Christmas never changes, but our survey shows dramatic changes in our tastes and in the menu served up by the BBC. Drama is the most expensive kind of television – costing up to £1m an hour to make – so this shows the BBC certainly isn’t skimping on presents this Christmas. “