Does the ABC have anyone in its programming department who understands the notion of giving viewers what they want, rather than what the executives think they want?

Why else would the ABC screen Andrew Denton’s Gallipoli doco Brothers In Arms last night on the day after Anzac Day?

Especially as it was up against the final of Ten’s The Biggest Loser which averaged more than 1.9 million viewers and cut the Denton doco’s audience to 782,000. It would have had more viewers on Wednesday night when it would not have been against such solid opposition.

And the ABC can’t argue that the competition doesn’t matter. Last year it postponed the David Wenham drama on policing in East Timor a week because it would have been swamped by the special interview with the Beaconsfield miners.

Both the Denton doco and the one on Vivian Bullwinkel deserved to be shown on the day when Australians remember war and mourn the passing of loved ones or friends, or remember those who showed bravery and courage.

One could have been shown on Wednesday night, the other last night. The 9.30pm timeslot on Anzac day would have been ideal for the Denton program, after The Chaser.

The audience profile would have been far better, predominantly young people under 30 who watch The Chaser and who the Denton doco would have been ideal for.

No, ABC programming stuck the idea of “genre nights” so on Wednesday night, the Catherine Tate Show aired at 9.30pm (an average British comedy sketch effort) and then At The Movies which could have been put back 30 minutes or pre-empted for Anzac Day.

It is the second time in a week that it has seemed ABC programming hasn’t understood where some programs should go in the schedule. The other was The Sideshow with Paul McDermott, which debuted on Saturday night at 7.30pm.

The Sideshow was dropped into a slot normally used for new or repeated British drama at 7.30pm where it turned what’s normally a strong night for the ABC into a bit of a viewing (let alone ratings) sideshow.

To recap, here’s the system of genre programming ABC TV currently uses.

Sunday is the big set piece: Planet Earth, or Robin Hood or Curtin, or Miss Marple or The Seven Industrial Wonders of The World. Local or international drama because the ABC is expected by its audience to show this material on this night.

Monday is news and current affairs: from Australian Story through to Four Corners, Difference of Opinion, Media Watch, and soon, the return of Enough Rope.

Tuesday has become a bit of a rag, tag night, a doco at 8pm, the Tuesday ep of The Bill then Foreign Correspondent.

Wednesday is light entertainment night: Spicks and Specks, The New Inventors, The Chaser, (The Glasshouse last year), Catherine Tate Show. This is usually aimed at under-40 viewers post 9- 9.30pm (The Chaser etc). At The Movies anchors the 10.05pm slot and is immovable.

Thursday night is a “factual” night with science and a doco from 8pm to 9.30pm.

Friday night is crime, usually British crime (bring back Z Cars!).

And Saturday?

Well Saturday is the bone of contention after the programming of that Sideshow into the 7.30pm slot. It broke the tradition, obviously upset viewers because neither The Sideshow nor The Bill got more than 800,000 viewers. The Sideshow averaged 648,000, The Bill, 769,000 people.

It broke the tradition of plunking a new or used British drama at 7.30pm, leading to The Bill at 8.30pm and then Parkie or some other usually British program around 9.20 to 9.30pm.

The ABC finished The West Wing last Saturday night but the program is more in keeping with high quality British drama than a light entertainment vehicle like the one McDermott drove somewhat unsteadily earlier in the night.

This Saturday night the British drama idea is more firmly established with The Bill at 8.30pm, followed by a repeat of the British cops show (Friday night first run), New Tricks and then new eps of Parkinson.

And it gets off to a slow start with The Sideshow at 7.30pm.

Flexibility on one-off, important programs shows awareness of what viewers might or are interested in and the ABC has shown that it does understand some things. Curtin worked on Sunday night as does Robin Hood more generally. 

And Spicks and Specks and The Chaser are working very well on Wednesdays. That’s why the mistakes stand out.