Is David Walliams’ new weeknight entertainment show killing off ITV’s News at Ten?

Ben Dowell analyses what ITV’s decision to launch a new 10pm series in the news slot means for the whole TV landscape

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ITV slipped out an announcement late yesterday about a new weeknight entertainment show with David Walliams.

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Starting in 2017 sometime (they won’t say when) it’s called The Nightly Show and is a “brand new weeknight entertainment series” fronted in week one by the Britain’s Got Talent presenter and offering “a high tempo mixture of topical monologue, studio games, celebrity guests, experts and VT’s”.

After Walliams’ stint, other “famous faces” will take over the show which will be recorded ‘as live’ each day at 6pm.

Nothing unusual in this. It sounds a bit like James Corden’s The Late Late Show, doesn’t it? A fun show spurred on with highly sharable social media clips, although eight weeks is a long commitment and the novelty value could wear off, especially if the calibre of those hosts in later weeks wears away.

Let’s give it a chance, I hear you say. But the implications of the move, announced to advertisers at a glitzy showcase event at the London Palladium last night, could be serious and far-reaching.

The Nightly Show is airing at 10pm and will shunt the news to later in the evening – 10.30pm – over the eight-week run. ITV insist that the news will return to 10pm when the run finishes. But will it?

The channel’s revamped news show has already been shifted to make way for limited-run programmes such as I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! and Champions League football coverage, as it is allowed to do under Ofcom rules. ITV is merely obligated to show 365 hours of national and international news each year, with 125 hours during peak times. But the eight-week stretch is a long one.

Does this really show faith in its new-look News at Ten, fronted by Tom Bradby, that it launched with such fanfare a year ago? Surely not, and ITN sources suggest they are concerned (and a little cross) about the decision.

ITV’s (relatively) new director of programmes Kevin Lygo has long wanted to experiment with the 10pm slot. The company also has intense commercial pressures and must have an eye on shoring up its ratings, especially with a sale of the company hanging in the air for many months now.

ITV’s late evening news (called News at Ten when it airs at 10pm, just ITV News when it airs later) has also struggled in the ratings. It pulls in substantially fewer viewers than its BBC1 rival, and its chatty and informal style has grated with some viewers.

Last night’s overnights were typical. The BBC1 bulletin had an overnight audience of 3.5 million (a 5.9% audience share) with ITV’s getting 2 million on the main channel (a 3.4% share) and 479,000 viewers on ITV HD.

But is moving the 10pm news for such a long period the right creative decision? Lygo could do well to remember the “News at When?” fiasco in 1999 when ITV tinkered with the schedules and put its nightly news bulletin on at different times – at (and often around) 11pm to pave the way for football, blockbuster drama and other events. This followed the BBC’s successful move of its main evening bulletin from 9pm to 10pm.

Dermot Murnaghan, the “News at When” host in those dark days, probably still bears the scars of it to this day.

This latest move seems like another effective concession that ITV’s heart is not in its late night news and that the channel has gifted more ground to the BBC in the battle of the 10pm news bulletins.

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Because, surely, if The Nightly Show is a success, there will be more experiments of this kind, more entertainment shows parachuted into the 10pm slot. If the News stayed at 10.30pm, ITV would be able to show 90-minute dramas at 9pm (surely a tempting prospect) and the late night news could be left to wither on the ratings vine.