Every so often the BBC shoots itself in the foot. A stupid decision which can be justified on paper backfires.
No, we’re not talking about the reprieve of the BBC Singers – a welcome move which will hopefully lead to a viable future for them.
Instead we are talking about Thursday night’s scheduling on BBC One.
The spin-off programme The Apprentice You’re Fired was promoted over to BBC One, delaying the News at Ten and Question Time by half an hour.
Now you can see the logic. The spin-off programme might appeal to more people than usual after the final.
Alas, the ratings were still lower than the news would have got. While the ITV News at Ten got a significantly bigger audience than usual.
Adding to the sense of an own goal, a work to rule in the English regions over job cuts caused problems. Journalists whose shift officially finished at 11 (the time of the delayed regional bulletins) could not stay back.
This bizarre scheduling decision has happened before with The Apprentice final but sends out all the wrong signals.
We have discussed before how it is difficult for BBC One to run post-watershed programmes – for instance powerful single dramas – which are more than 60 minutes long.
This is why it is acceptable to move back the news, for example, on a Sunday or holiday to allow exceptional output. At Christmas I justified the decision to delay the news for the harrowing war film 1917.
Similarly if a live football match overruns, a delay is acceptable.
But a spin-off from a programme shifted over to the main channel for the night? On a Thursday night? Which might have been a busy news day?
It is time to nip this in the bud.
The BBC needs to make a clear declaration of intent and do it fast. The News at Ten must only be delayed on routine weekdays in the most exceptional of circumstances.
Otherwise it might as well simply copy ITV and treat the news as a movable feast with all the difficulties that causes.
There is a certain urgency to this.
Until now, you could always say that someone who wanted the news at exactly 10pm could simply switch to the News Channel.
But it now carries less domestic news and has to accommodate an international audience.
There is a little bit of history repeating itself.
During the BBC’s difficult year of 1984, one of the biggest controversies concerned the screening of the US mini-series The Thorn Birds.
You might wonder just what was so terrible about it. It was a glossy and popular series while in those days both BBC One and ITV showed far more imported programmes than today without comment.
The problem was it delayed the Nine o’Clock News and Panorama. No doubt this is why it caught the attention of politicians.
It was a massive own goal just when the government of the day was out to get the BBC.
Don’t let the same thing happen again.
PICTURED: Alan Sugar and the BBC News at Ten opening titles. COPYRIGHT: BBC.