If the biggest shows in this year’s festive TV schedules seem to have more than a whiff of Christmases past, you would be right.
Both the BBC and ITV have filled the evening of December 25 with new episodes of programmes that have made multiple appearances on Christmas Day over the past few years – in some cases, the past few decades.
This is despite 2018 seeing the lowest TV ratings for a Christmas Day since records began.
According to analysis by the PA news agency:
– On BBC One, Mrs Brown’s Boys is making its seventh consecutive appearance on Christmas Day, while Call The Midwife is back for the eighth successive year
– Strictly Come Dancing has now been a fixture on December 25 for 14 years in a row
– EastEnders has been there for even longer, having been broadcast on every Christmas Day without a break since 1992
– On ITV, Emmerdale has been shown on Christmas Day since 1997, an uninterrupted run of 23 years
– And Coronation Street has turned up on every Christmas Day since 1994, an unbroken run of 26 years
Michael McIntyre is also making his sixth appearance this decade on BBC One’s Christmas Day schedule, while on ITV Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? returns on December 25 for the first time since 2005.
Beating them all is Top Of The Pops, which is back on BBC One for its 53rd consecutive Christmas Day.
Broadcasters scheduling new episodes of the same programmes on December 25 year after year is nothing new.
In the 1970s, the likes of The Generation Game and Morecambe And Wise were regulars on BBC One on December 25, while Only Fools And Horses performed the same role for much of the 1980s.
But audiences for these festive specials were often the biggest of the year, which helped justify their recurring appearances on Christmas Day.
Only Fools And Horses attracted 16.4 million viewers as recently as 2003.
By contrast the most-watched programme on Christmas Day in 2018, Call The Midwife, had a TV audience of 8.7 million.
TV audiences for the biggest shows on Christmas Day have dropped by 31% this decade, and 40% since 2000.
Soap operas have experienced a particularly steep decline in viewers.
EastEnders has seen its Christmas Day audience plummet from 14.4 million in 2007 to only 6.5 million in 2018.
Coronation Street enjoyed 14.6 million viewers for its Christmas Day episode in 2000, and managed 10.8 million in 2011. But 2018’s episode had ratings of just 6.7 million.
If this year’s Christmas Day schedules buck the trend and show a rise in viewers, there may yet be life in some of TV’s oldest war horses.
If ratings decline even further, however, December 25 may start to feel like one of the least important TV days of the year.