In the old days, the start of September was one of the key points in the year for TV. The beginning of the autumn season marked the return of old favourites and brought in new shows. This was especially true on BBC One which relied unduly on repeats during the summer months.
But until the early 90s, the start of autumn was a significant moment for all the main channels. Seasonal promotions would start appearing in mid-August. Occasionally it brought changes to pres too – such as the revamped BBC One globe in 1981 and the first corporate ident on ITV in 1989.
This year there is a little bit of a sense of that as TV schedules continue their return to a new normal after what will hopefully be the worst of the pandemic.
ITV starts the ball rolling next week with its daytime schedule which effectively returns to normal. The afternoons feature new episodes of staples such as Judge Rinder and Tipping Point for the first time since the spring.
Meanwhile it is understood STV will reintroduce a separate news service for the former Grampian region.
The next week’s peak schedule looks far more normal with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (minus the audience) stripped across the week.
Then from Friday 11th September the quantity of soap episodes returns to normal, beginning with an hour-long episode of Coronation Street. Both Corrie and Emmerdale are believed to be returning to 6 episodes a week from 14th September.
By this point ITV will seem to be properly back in business although the remaining restrictions continue to place huge challenges on production teams. Still, to paraphrase the channel’s promo, it will look like 2020 has been rebooted.
At around this time, any remaining changes to the schedule – such as the shorter lunchtime regional news – may start to look conspicuous. Have the short regional daytime weather forecasts gone for good too?
In Northern Ireland there will come a point when any return to UTV continuity and full local branding will look like a conscious creative choice rather than a mere return to normality.
Meanwhile on BBC One, there are a few changes too. 7th September sees the return of regional opts (in the English regions) on Breakfast – the programme will also return to a 9.15am finish time. The BBC News Channel simulcast at 9am returns to BBC Two.
On the same date, we also have the return of EastEnders, albeit with shorter than usual episodes. There’s been little promotion of the return of the show so far. The shorter episodes mean, for now, some weekday BBC peak programmes won’t start on the hour or half hour for the first time for at least 20 years.
Newsnight remains at 10.45pm for now.
The sense of a more normal schedule is a big sign that there is a new normal.
As remaining restrictions ease or working practices adapt, it will then be easier to return fully to normal: more new dramas, studio audiences and an end to social distancing between presenters.
But keep an eye out for the things that won’t return too – now or in the future.
PICTURED: BBC One new season graphic (1984). COPYRIGHT: BBC.