The End of Top Of The Pops
A personal view from 2006.
It was, of course, inevitable. Despite its status as one of the best-known TV shows in the world - even in countries where it isn't broadcast - the BBC has spent the last ten years slowly strangling Top Of The Pops.
The first stage in the show's decline was the decision in 1996 to move it from the classic Thursday evening slot to Fridays at 7.30 pm. This immediately had the show at a disadvantage in three ways - the most obvious being the fact that by scheduling it directly opposite the hugely popular Coronation Street on ITV, a drop in viewing figures was inevitable.
Another important consideration was the fact that, with the new chart being revealled every Sunday, the show was now kicking off the weekend with a rundown of the previous week's chart. Hardly a crowd pleaser.
Perhaps the most important effect of moving the show to Friday evening, although the least obvious, was the fact that it effectively killed off the "water cooler moment" - no longer could you go to school or work on Friday morning and start a conversation with "Did you see that Culture Club lot on Top Of The Pops last night? Was that a boy or a girl?" By the time Monday morning came around, nobody was talking about the previous Friday's television.
Predictably, audience figures dwindled throughout the late nineties and early noughties, as speculation mounted about what the BBC would do with the show. Various theories were circulated, including the idea that the show might shun the singles chart in favour of reflecting album sales. Another suggestion was that the show might move to Tuesday evenings, only two days after the chart was published, which would have echoed the classic "top forty announcement on Tuesday, TOTP on Thursday" arrangement. There was even a rumour circulating in 2003 that the controller of BBC One wanted to move the show to youth-oriented digital channel BBC Three, but BBC Three didn't want it.
After all this speculation, the launch of "All New Top Of The Pops" in November 2003 turned out to be remarkably underwhelming. It was still on BBC One, still on a Friday and still directly opposite Coronation Street, but now the amount of music on the show was reduced by the inclusion of pointless competitions and shallow features on minor league pop stars. Unsurprisingly, the viewing figures continued to drop and after only a year, the BBC announced its decision to move the show to BBC Two.
In some ways this could have been a positive move. The show was rescheduled for 7pm on Sunday evenings, immediately after the announcement of the top forty on Radio 1. If anyone in charge had really cared about the show, this could have turned it into an exciting, up to the minute chart rundown, especially with the revitalisation of the singles chart caused by the inclusion of download sales in early 2005. Instead, the show backed off even further from chart information, preferring to concentrate on singles that wouldn't be released for weeks, and featuring only a cursory rundown of the top ten singles and albums.
Having done its best to wreck the programme's reputation, the BBC then expressed surprise that viewing figures halved after it was moved to the less-watched channel, and the corporation obviously felt they had finally reached the point where they could kill the show off altogether without too much protest.
So, after 42 years, what could we expect from the final show? The biggest Top Of The Pops ever? The Rolling Stones, U2, Paul McCartney, Coldplay, Madonna and Robbie Williams all crammed into Television Centre for one final, almighty send-off? No, of course not. This is the BBC. Despite the presence of everyone from Sir Jimmy Saville and Dave Lee Travis to Rufus Hound and Reggie Yates, the last Top Of The Pops was nothing more than a clip show, a glorified edition of TOTP2. Even the choice of clips was poor - The Beatles, Queen and Oasis went past in a set of dizzyingly fast montages (a strict maximum of two lines per song was enforced) while archive classics from Gnarls Barkley (last seen three months previously) and Beyoncé Knowles (a vintage performance from three whole years ago) were played in full.
As if this wasn't bad enough, the showing later that evening of a Top Of The Pops documentary, made in 2001, exposed the total lack of effort that had been put into the last show. Watching the documentary it became obvious that all the archive material used earlier in the montages had not been selected after a rigorous trawl through the TOTP vaults, but had been drawn directly from this documentary. A pitiful end, but given the BBC's attitude towards the show over the past decade we shouldn't really be surprised.