Battle of the tea-time chat shows

Richard Cann examines the appeal of ITV’s Today With Des And Mel as the lunchtime show prepares to do battle with Channel 4 chat-show icons Richard and Judy for one of the toughest times of the day, the 5pm slot

The new year will see ITV’s Des and Mel go head-to-head with Channel 4’s Richard and Judy in TV’s most hotly anticipated mixed doubles match, played out in the 5pm tea-time slot.

Today With Des And Mel moves from the lunchtime slot to 5pm, replacing the six-week run of The Paul O’Grady Show. It will pit the duo’s format of interviews, competitions and live music acts against Richard & Judy’s broader magazine-style approach of interviews, special reports, book, wine and entertainment reviews and promotions.

Adrian English, associate director at media planning and buying agency Carat, says ITV has taken a ‘calculated risk’, banking on Des and Mel’s ability to bring some of its loyal lunchtime audience of 1.3 million to the 2.5 million that currently tune in to see O’Grady. ‘As bad as the idea of Des and Mel might sound, it is a very watchable show. I think it will work,’ he says. It is commissioned to run from September to March.

Amanda Ross, executive producer of Richard & Judy, which attracts audiences of up to 2.6 million and runs for 48 weeks of the year, says 5pm is ‘one of the hardest slots of the day because it attracts a massive cross-section with everybody from kids to older people watching’.

Consumer appeal

Numbers tell only half the story, says Ross, pointing to the massive influence hosts have on viewers’ purchasing habits as consumers.

She cites the effect Channel 4’s show has had on book sales since the introduction of the Richard & Judy Book Club, which has helped promote the two best-selling paperbacks of the year. A similar wine club has recently been introduced.

Freud Communications media director Patrick Keegan believes Des and Mel also command their viewers’ respect, saying they will have no trouble translating their success to the later timeslot. He says the hosts are already ‘prime-time personalities’ in terms of recognition and the show’s formula has proved successful.

He adds that their focus on music gives their show a point of difference from Richard & Judy. Consequently, PROs should decide which programme to target on a case-by-case basis, rather than having to pick a winner. ‘There are enough good guests to go round,’ he says.

Today With Des And Mel

Executive producer Colin Fay

Contact 020 7261 8006

Describe the show

It is a wide-ranging entertainment show bound together by Des O’Connor and Melanie Sykes’ visible rapport. We have three or four guests depending on who they are, what they do and how much they have to say.

How will the show be adapted for the later timeslot?

The audience will be bigger with a wider demographic, but why change a winning formula? The show is not going to change substantially. We will remain largely studio-based, featuring entertaining guests and the best musical performances and continue to involve our viewers in the show.

Who is your dream guest?

Those who choose us over Richard & Judy! The most obvious examples would be singers and musicians, as we can give them the full performance stage with prime-time production values, lighting and direction.

Why should PROs give exclusives to Des and Mel?

PROs want their clients to be seen at their best and we provide a relaxed atmosphere in which they will enjoy themselves, which makes them more interesting interviewees. Our relationship with PROs is very important; they know they can trust their clients with us.

How can PROs sell-in more effectively?

It’s a huge help if we can get pre-interviews with guests and they turn up on time. We work up to two months in advance.

Richard & Judy

Executive producer Amanda Ross

Contact 020 7091 4700 (producer Cactus TV)

How is it different to Des and Mel?

They are completely different types of shows. For instance, we recently had David Blunkett on explaining the Queen’s Speech and we regularly have John Reid on to explain health policy. We also tackle risky subjects such as acute surgery. I can’t imagine Des And Mel doing such serious items. Also, our audience is ABC1.

Why should PROs turn to you?

We are more in-depth, as proven with our book club where we will discuss books properly and trigger more copies being sold. PROs know that Richard and Judy will read the book or watch the film and then give an intelligent chat. Our audience is intelligent and they listen, so we have a very rigorous procedure to choose guests, books or wines. That’s why Madonna, the Clintons and Tom Hanks come to us.

Are exclusives important?

We have to be first or different. The only shows we would ever follow are Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and Parkinson because they are very different. We don’t see Des and Mel as our main competition and it hasn’t beaten us to anybody that we have wanted.

How can PROs plug products?

They can ask us to integrate them into an item we’re running. We limit our competitions to high-quality prizes that are up-market and intelligent, rather than overload the viewer. Our deadlines for stories vary from a day to a month in advance.

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