Two significant changes to BBC News output happen on Monday. Because of the impact of coronavirus, regional bulletins during BBC Breakfast are being suspended. Meanwhile Newsnight is moving to 10.45pm to alllow it to share a set and gallery with the main BBC One and BBC News Channel output.
The breakfast bulletins will be missed and hopefully it won’t be long until they are back. Similarly Newsnight is a distinct programme so, hopefully, it will not be long until it gets a distinct visual identity again.
But might there be a case for moving Newsnight permanently to 10.45pm?
In its early years Newsnight floated around the schedule with no fixed start. In 1988 new deputy director-general John Birt ordered this to stop and set the 10.30pm start time in stone.
This caused huge upset to Bill Cotton, just about to retire as head of BBC TV, in the kind of row loved by the quality papers – any viewer unaware of BBC politics probably couldn’t get why a regular start time should be such a divisive issue.
Typically, new BBC Two controller Alan Yentob showed great enterprise. Short programmes were commissioned to help BBC Two hit 10.30pm. The nightly arts programme The Late Show may have been impossible to schedule if Newsnight still floated.
As an aside, Newsnight was never scheduled to start at precisely 10.30pm and was never introduced using the clock during this era – often it started with no ident following the trail for The Late Show.
But the move of the main BBC One News to 10pm in 2000 did Newsnight no favours. Even now the programme clashes with the regional bulletins. Might a 10.45pm start be cleaner and allow news junkies to watch both? Might it help BBC Two get a bit more scheduling flexibility?
Everybody hopes the current crisis will soon be over and that normal broadcasting and production will resume soon. But it does not mean to say that something forced upon everyone by terrible circumstances may not turn out to be an idea worth considering when normal life resumes.
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