ITV has announced a big step back towards normality. From the middle of September, Emmerdale and Coronation Street will be shown six times a week as usual. Episodes have been rationed since the start of lockdown in March.
The broadcaster also announced details of other programmes – including many favourites – in its autumn schedule which it hopes will be as normal as possible.
The return of a full soap schedule is hugely important and symbolic. It means the weekday evening schedule will have its normal structure and “feel” normal even if, for example, the schedule as a whole may not include as much new drama as ITV would have liked, and there’ll be more repeats than would be desirable. For viewers it’s a key moment too.
Other ITV network programmes have gradually returned too – for instance Lorraine has now been separated off from Good Morning Britain and regained its identity.
Crucially there is still no word on when the full regional service will be restored – the lunchtime regional news remains curtailed and there are fewer regional programmes than normal in Wales and Northern Ireland. However any permanent reduction in volume would need Ofcom permission.
Of course, the intriguing question for pres fans is if and when full UTV branding will return.
A mini refresh last week increased the prominence of the ITV Hub logo on trails. If UTV trails for network output return, the ITV Hub logo would, in effect, be dual branding.
It must be said that the temporary use of ITV branding in Northern Ireland since April has attracted little public comment and has had no notable impact on ratings.
Most viewers will of course be far more concerned with the full return of the soaps, which rate especially well in NI. Their return, not the return of UTV continuity, will be the big symbolic point on the return to normality.
The BBC has yet to confirm when new episodes of EastEnders will return to the schedule. It may need to be well marketed in advance.
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