History programmes were the surprise success of the TV schedules last year, David Starkey's series on Elizabeth I and Henry VIII proving to be as popular as many soaps. TV channels are now clamouring to repeat this success.
However, the latest attempt to capitalise on the trend, BBC2's Civil War, featuring the animated Tristram Hunt, appears to have crashed and burned, leaving TV reviewers unimpressed. Now the channels are gambling on what the next TV fashion will be.
This year, rather than focusing on a particular genre, such as reality TV, game shows or sport, the channels want to combine the lot. "What I think you will see is an increasing use of hybrid forms," says Mark Rowland, managing director of the production company Mentorn International.
One new show tipped to be hot is You're the Manager, a mix of sport and reality entertainment that starts next month. In the programme, fans of the non-league football team Stevenage Borough FC will pick the players they want to field and will even be able to make substitutions during a match, voting via text messages. The programme is destined to be "big", predicts David Elstein, the man who set up Channel 5. "It's a good use of interactivity and a typical Channel 4 twist on sport," he says.
However, there's light at the end of the tunnel for football widows. "The football bubble will burst," says Trevor Beattie, the man who developed both Labour's general election adverts and the FCUK campaign for French Connection. "I think it is rapidly falling down morally and I think people will get sick of it. It will reach its peak with the World Cup and it will be downhill from then on."
Despite the advertising recession currently battering the TV industry, the channels are not shirking from large projects. "Everybody wants `big', and everybody is being encouraged to be as ambitious as possible," says Stephen Lambert, director of programmes at the production company RDF Media. …