The Premiership (ITV1, 2001-2004)
A few people have requested that I review Match Of The Day on this blog. But I thought that I would review this one instead. As I have said before, I am not really that big a football fan, but I think that the story of this one is interesting because it’s a perfect example of a show that tried to bring new and innovative features to a trusted format when viewers didn’t want any of that at all.
In 1992, Sky won the rights the show live coverage of the newly-formed Premier League, meaning that top-flight matches would no longer be shown in full on the BBC or ITV, and there was now a good reason to buy a satellite dish. This meant that Match Of The Day was relaunched by the BBC to feature highlights of matches on Saturday nights. This was often hosted by Des Lynam, who had become popular for his laid-back style on various BBC sport shows including Grandstand.
In 1999 there was much surprise when Des defected to ITV, meaning that he would no longer host the show. Then, in 2001 ITV unexpectedly won the rights to the highlights off the BBC for the next three seasons, meaning that Des was suddenly hosting the most high-profile TV football show in the country again, much to his delight. ITV felt that they had to do something different. The plan was to follow the matches throughout the day.
There would be previews in On The Ball in the afternoon, followed by The Goal Rush as results came in, and concluding with the centrepiece of the main show in the evening. With such a big interest in football, how could it fail. The biggest change would be that the main show would be at 7pm, right in primetime, not at 10:30 where it was usually shown on the BBC. Don’t forget to set the video.
This meant that the highlights would have to be complied and edited very quickly. It was considered it would be worth it though. The theme music was U2’s chart-topper “Beautiful Day” (one of the few changes that did last to the end). Along with Des (in a pointlessly large studio), the regular pundits would include Andy Townsend and Ally McCoist, along with commentators Clive Tyldesley and Peter Drury. Where’s Motty gone.
Along with some features and interviews, there would also be ProZone (an example of an idea that isn’t as interesting as it originally seemed and will get dropped almost instantly). This meant that there wasn’t actually much time for the highlights in the 75-minute show. Throw in some immensely irritating sponsorship bumpers for Coca-Cola as well and you have an all-round package that was widely criticised by viewers and critics.
There would also be an extra edition on Monday to reflect on the weekend’s action. By November though, the show had been moved back to the more familiar slot of 10:30 and all the gimmicks had gone. One of the boldest scheduling gambles of its era was a complete flop, with disappointing ratings. All that hype for nothing, it turned out that people would rather watch Blind Date in that slot, who would’ve thought it.
One problem with excessive adverts is that I remember if an edition was scheduled to end at midnight, they seemed to return from a break at about 11:57 and Des would say “highlights from two more matches now”. Are they only going to get about a minute each then, after the show should’ve already ended? The show carried on despite the rather embarrassing collapse of the ITV Sport Channel in 2002.
As far as the actual football goes, this era is best remembered for two titles being won by Arsenal, including their invincible season. In 2004, the rights returned to the BBC, meaning that The Premiership came to an end, and shortly after this, Des, who some felt was a little past his best by this point, left ITV after five years, and he would resurface about a year later as the new host of Countdown.