“…Heartbeat, why do you miss when my baby kisses me…” – Buddy Holly

The strains of ITV’s much loved period drama may no longer haunt the screens in a few years time due to falling ad revenues, which may well be a blow for the North Yorkshire village of Goathland. Viewing figures have halved since the programme made its debut in 1992. I reckon it could down to the fact the programme may have ran its course, but that’s another story best left to another topic.

On the whole, has anybody else realised how Sunday night programmes tend to be more sombre? I don’t think it leaves any of us in a sunny disposition for Monday mornings. It is this concept which has led me to a new Not So Perfect Ten. Today’s subject, ‘Sunday Night Terrors’ is a rundown of the most sombre programmes ever to have graced the Sunday night schedules. They merit inclusion on the grounds of its mawkish nature, sheer crapness, apocalyptic doom and an unedifying blandness which screams ‘Monday is on the way’.

  1. Little House on the Prairie (ITV/Channel 4, 1979 – 1994);
  2. The Love Boat (ITV, 1978 – 1987);
  3. Antiques Roadshow (BBC, 1979 – to date);
  4. Duck Patrol (ITV 1996);
  5. Surprise Surprise (LWT/ITV, 1983 – 1996);
  6. Beat The Star (ITV, 2007);
  7. Dancing on Ice (ITV, 2007 – to date);
  8. Where the Heart Is (Anglia/ITV, 1998 – 2004);
  9. Threads (BBC 2, 23/09/1984);
  10. Hart to Hart (ITV, 1981 – 1986);

There are probably several more to list which may form a follow-up to this subject. Please note that the transmission dates within this list above refer to the UK transmission dates.

1. Little House on the Prairie

Before I discovered the joys of real ale, Sky Sports, and Sunday bus services, Monday was almost on its way when Channel 4 reverberated to the strains of Little House on the Prairie. Though the sets were lavish, I couldn’t get into the programme, unlike my mother.

2. The Love Boat

There must be an unwritten rule that Sundays had to be a schmaltz-fest. There was the awful Small Wonder which included the non-adventures of a girl and her robot. Then Highway to Heaven would come on after Weekend World or Aap Kaa Hak. Coinciding neatly with Sunday pub closing times (before 1994, you couldn’t get a pint between 1500 and 2000 hours) was The Love Boat. The premise was that romantic and funny adventures took place on cruise ships around the world. Interesting. Could we have some football on instead? Thankfully, Bullseye used to start shortly after, which neatly finished for the UK Top 40 Countdown.

3. Antiques Roadshow

For me, the weekend finished as soon as the UK No. 1 chart single was announced. Now that I no longer listen to the music charts, Antiques Roadshow will suffice instead. Though I find this programme mildly interesting, it doesn’t quite stir my senses the same way as a rare home win for Stalybridge Celtic. Now that Fiona Bruce presents this programme, I have started watching it more, so I’ll leave this to your imagination…

4. Duck Patrol

Sometime in 1996, Richard Wilson returned to ITV for the sitcom Duck Patrol. After doing the successful One Foot in the Grave on ‘the other side’, ITV thought this would be their equivalent to ‘Last of the Summer Wine’. My family and several other viewers thought otherwise as we tried to force a titter.

5. Surprise Surprise

Around about the same timeslot as Antiques Roadshow was Surprise Surprise, a televisual equivalent of the ‘missing persons’ column with ‘our Cilla’ at the helm. I found it rather schmaltzy, making at the Anne Nightingale’s request show on Radio 1 a more inviting proposition. When I was young, I hated the programme and thought ‘Ho hum, school is on the way’. Now if there was a quiz show element to it…

6. Dancing on Ice

7. Beat the Star

In a bid to make Sunday night the new Saturday, ITV decided to give its Sunday night schedule an overhaul. Spurred on the success of Dancing on Ice, ITV thought Beat The Star would become another. Alas it wasn’t. The Vernon Kay fronted programme [Beat The Star] encouraged the general public to take on celebrities at challenges akin to ‘You Bet’. The biggest challenge was sitting through 90 minutes of this programme, despite not fulfilling the ‘depressing’ nature of Sunday programme.

8. Where the Heart Is

If trying to impress us with ice dancers weren’t enough, trying to create a similar programme to an already successful one was bad enough. Enter Where The Heart Is, produced by Anglia Television, yet set in West Yorkshire. I found the storylines maudlin and unadventurous. Where was the suspense laden plots, or the fear factor?

9. Threads

The fear factor was something Threads did have – in buckets – one Sunday night in 1984. Ticking all boxes for a Sunday night doomfest, the docudrama was set in Sheffield before, during and after a nuclear attack. It is also something of a cult classic (and rightly so), not least for a social history of 1980s Sheffield, its shoestring budget, and ability to scare anyone into joining CND. Even on repeated viewing, I cannot fail to be stirred by the anti nuclear weapons demo scenes, and the first nuclear strike which occurs 55 minutes into the programme (nicely timed before the end of Spitting Image when shown on the 23rd September 1984).

10. Hart to Hart

For the terrified feared of the nuclear reality approaching them at the time, they could have chickened out and watched something more asinine, like Tales of the Unexpected or Hart to Hart.  Featuring Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner, the titles were, in my opinion were as good as the programme got.  Then again, I was sent to bed well before that programme started, and it is only through anecdotal evidence I was told that Freeway was the best actor (and he was their dog).

Now I know why we get this ‘OMG, I’ve got to go to work/school/college feeling’.  It is almost as if the programmes are selected to numb us into work.  Unless of course it happens to be a decent horror film or the excellent Threads.

Bring on the trumpets!

S.V., 05 March 2009.

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