It’s not up there with the fall of the Roman Empire or the sacking of Constantinople but still, ITV1 has brought down disaster on all of our heads – it’s chopped episodes of Lewis in half.
Poor, hangdog Lewis. Cutting him off at the knees seems a grubby reward for so many years of sterling service as a dependable TV copper – first as Morse’s sidekick and, since 2007, as his own man with his own oppo, the cerebral and chilly Hathaway.
But ITV has decided that the new series of three stories (starting on tonight) will work better, not as two-hour stand-alone dramas as they have always been, but hour-long (or rather 47 minutes with ad breaks) episodes spread across six weeks. “It’s a format that works very well,” I am told by an ITV person.
Boo, I say. Hiss. Nonsense. Look around you, ITV, we love our two-hour crime dramas. Great clumps of the country like nothing better on biting winter evenings than spending two cosy hours every Saturday night immersed in Inspector Montalbano, or Wallander, or back-to-back episodes of The Killing or The Bridge. Or Midsomer Murders (Wednesday). Nobody would think of bisecting that, would they?
The two-hour format has always worked particularly well for Lewis, and Morse before it. These are slow (often very slow) and immersive stories with lots of talk and lots of suspects. Lewis is meant to take two hours in one sitting, so it has plenty of time to meander through Oxford’s pretty streets. Like a scotch egg, it should be consumed in one sitting, not cut in half and nibbled in consecutive weeks.
You don’t want to settle back into your sofa cushions as Lewis begins, only to be slapped in the face after an hour by a “next week” trail. “What, you mean it’s not finishing now, tonight?” I can hear you wail. “But I’ve got a big bowl of crisps that will take me two hours to eat. I had it all planned, I was looking forward to it.”
And what about when you get flu? A couple of years ago I caught the kind of bug that hits you from behind like a sack of sand, leaving you jellied and able to do no more than lie prone and utter the most simple of commands to anyone within earshot. I was so ill that I actually looked forward to ITV1’s afternoon Lewis repeats. Two hours snuggled under a blanket, feeling sorry for myself as yet another shot of the Radcliffe Camera appeared on the screen. I even regaled the charming Kevin Whatley with my tale of woe at a party shortly afterwards, and he had the grace not to look bored.
So please, have a re-think, ITV. Now, more than ever, you face a nation that needs to escape the icy blast of austerity with a two-hour stroll through the dreamy and civilised streets of Oxford. It’s not much to ask.