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Troubled TV times

Bleak future for the goggle-box

Daytime television, with its format of current affairs, celebrity chat, game shows and lifestyle programmes, plus those never-ending soaps, has been with us for a long time. Perhaps too long? Soaps have mainly been cosy and comfortable, their melodramatic plotlines rarely controversial. For millions, they’ve been a familiar friend, always there as viewing or background companionship. But amid recent rows and controversy, including claims that some star-name presenters have become too big for their celebrity boots, commentators question whether daytime TV has had its day, at least in its current model. There was outrage when Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, then presenters of ITV’s flagship daytime show, This Morning, were alleged to have jumped the queue at the lying in state of Queen Elizabeth II. Schofield later quit after admitting an on-set affair, which was greeted by what many perceived as a spate of unsavoury “putting the boot in” comments by former bosom-buddy fellow presenters. Soon after, Willoughby also stepped down following an alleged kidnap plot. This Morning had not fared well even before this spate of problems: there were multiple complaints when, in an ill-judged response to the cost-of-living-crisis, producers introduced a section called “have your energy bills paid” in the spin-to-win quiz. It was swiftly dropped after a significant backlash. Meantime, rival channels are announcing major changes in daytime scheduling. Doctors, the BBC soap, is being scrapped after 23 years and more than 4,500 episodes. Last year Channel 5 dropped the Australian soap, Neighbours, although it was subsequently revived by Amazon. And on Channel 4, the consumer and lifestyle show Steph’s Packed Lunch is being axed. So, what’s going on? Partly, it’s money. Drama is expensive, and with the government freezing the BBC licence fee until April 2024, the corporation must make difficult spending decisions. Commercial networks face challenges too, with tough times seeing a drop in advertising income. But is there a wider reason? In August, Ofcom announced the biggest decline in people watching live television since records began. Older viewers are most associated with daytime television and figures show these audiences tend not to catch up with missed programmes through streaming sites. Could all this, then, signal curtains for daytime TV?

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