Red or Black? is the weakest link in ITV’s schedule… goodbye

Ant and Dec are no match for Anne Robinson and Matt Allwright

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What a difference a summer makes, eh? 

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In May, I sat in a hotel cinema in Mayfair
as Simon Cowell boasted that his new game show would be “event TV to
remember” – he even suggested his binary choice-fest was so good it
might go global.  “I’d love to take it around the world,” the media
mogul explained, “I have had interest from America already…” 

Less than four months later – and after what can only be described as a turbulent week in roulette-shire – one wonders if those excitable Hollywood types are still knocking down Mr Cowell’s door?

Last night, Red or Black? descended to a new low in the ratings, falling below four million viewers for the first time.

Indeed, the high-concept game show performed so badly for ITV1 that it was beaten into second place by the BBC’s long-running consumer affairs show, Watchdog, fronted by Anne Robinson. 

In the 8pm to 9pm slot, Red or Black? could only manage an average audience of 3.8 million viewers on ITV1 (a 16.9 per cent share) whereas Watchdog pulled in a much healthier 5.2 million (23.2 per cent share) for the hour.  

Even worse, the second part of Syco’s game show (the bit where someone spins the wheel for a million) only improved by 100,000 viewers – struggling up to 3.9 million (17.3 per cent share) between 9.30pm and 10pm, only just beating the much maligned new series of Torchwood (3.5 million) on BBC1. 

The most telling statistic is that fewer people watched the second 15 minutes of the 9.30pm Red or Black? than started with it. 100,000 people switched off between Ant and Dec introducing the business end of the show and Darren the Yorkshire pig farmer winning £1 million.

The story of Red or Black? has been one of woe for ITV and Syco.  

From the off, the show has performed badly.  And despite the tiny boost that the programme received when its debut episode narrowly beat Doctor Who in Saturday’s overnights, it’s quickly been found out by the viewers. 

Frankly the scandals that have surrounded the show have been the only thing that’s kept a smidgen of interest in the programme since the initial round of bad reviews graced the press last weekend. And now it seems not even the old trick of sticking a strip of Coronation Street specials through the week in the hope of grabbing inherited audiences is working.

The opening shows did all right, with a 6.4m/7m average on Saturday – possibly lower than ITV were expecting, but not a disaster.  Quickly, however, the audience began collapsing. Sunday’s show attracted 4.6m/5.3m,  Monday 5m/5.1m and Wednesday 4.6m/4.6m. Now it’s fallen below 4 million and Anne Robinson and Matt Allwright have proved to be more of a draw than Ant and Dec – probably not a line you’ll read very often.

At a reported cost of £2m per evening to make, these numbers will be making ITV execs sweat – particularly now it’s emerged that the show had already been shelved in 2003 after a pilot was deemed to be “too flawed” to be a hit.  Thankfully, they only have two more nights to get through before the whole expensive fiasco can finally be put to bed. 

Red or Black?, it seems, was a gamble too far for Simon Cowell and ITV.  Perhaps it’s understandable that they thought they were invincible, considering the way viewers lap up The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent year in, year out? Perhaps Mr Cowell took his eye off the ball on this project because he was too busy cracking America with The X Factor USA? Or perhaps everyone involved just underestimated the intelligence and overestimated the patience of the British public?  The inquisition, I’m sure, will go on long after the final roulette wheel is spun on Saturday night.

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But for now, one thing is certain. Red or Black? is a turkey, and I think you’ll join me in a phrase borrowed from Watchdog’s very own Ms Robinson, when I say: Red or Black? You are the weakest link…goodbye.