Happy New Day

New Day’s Resolutions

‘I’ve been lying wide awake, paralyzed by the buzzing of the television’, Courtesy of Nicole Motta. http://www.flickr.com/photos/nicolemotta/


While I have the greatest respect for television executives, there’s one area where I do worry. It seems that they have a blind spot to the potential of midnight.

Once a year, we celebrate the arrival of a New Year in a musical way with Andy Stewart, or Jools Holland or a few fireworks. And we know that it’s mostly pre-recorded but there’s nothing else going on at that time of night, and everyone wishes they could be doing something really special, like using the moment to snog someone they barely know.  I remember, around the momentous event that was New Millennium Year’s Eve, sitting with friends in a bar in India designing the ultimate way to enter the year 2000.  One friend’s ambition was, I recall, to snort cocaine off an engorged body part of Rocco Siffredi.  I don’t think he succeeded on that particular night, and sadly since he is now dead, he never will.  I forget what mine was.

But anyway, the point about New Year’s Eve programming is that it isn’t really a time when we want to watch TV.  Not really. It’s not normal.  It’s a special night, followed by a Bank holiday, and follows the long Christmas break.  No no.  What television really needs, is a NIGHTLY programme AT MIDNIGHT.  A programme that marks the passing of each day.  Oh YES.  Now we’re talking.

When you go to a new country, sometimes there are passport controls and frisking and that, and you know you’re going from one nation to another:  a ritualistic passing through.  Then other times you’re driving and suddenly you’re in the next country with a just a road-sign to let you know.  We pass through the days like the latter, but why?  All those legal age-based rites of passage – consensual sex, drinking, voting, free bus pass and so on, they START at MIDNIGHT.  Everybody’s birthday starts at midnight.  Shouldn’t we make it more of an event?

Anyway, on the off-chance that someone who can do something about this is reading this blog, here are twelve reasons why an audiences would grow to love a midnight programme.

1. Lots of people are still up.  Young, yes, but also, mainly older people (who need less sleep).  It’s hardly the middle of the night at all.  That’s 3am. Everyone knows that.  Yes, some people have gone to bed, but that only makes it all the more special.

2. Audiences like scarcity.  Midnight only happens once a night. Yes, *sigh* it can be time-shifted, but really, why bother?  A programme built around midnight would be a nightly event. Ever leaned round the driver’s seat as the odometer in the car clicks through to another thousand miles?  Some would call that cathartic, I’d call that an accident waiting to happen.  Doesn’t happen at any old time.  It’s the joy of maths for people who don’t like numbers.

3. It’s an easy mnemonic.  What time is that midnight programme on?  Oh yes. Then.  Ha ha HA.

4. It marks the end of a day. So there’s a finality about it.  But it also marks the start of a new one.  It’s like a full-stop and a capital letter in one go.  A passing and a birth.

5. But it has historic echoes.  Midnight puts the ‘tee’ in ‘day‘ to make it a ‘date‘ to remember.  Each day has resonance because of what has happened before.  And some of these actually happen around midnight, from the planned (Indian independence), to the tragic (deaths of Princess Diana, John Lennon…).  My mother gets upset every October 25th.

6. There’s something of the night about it.  A sense of danger, of atmosphere, but also calmness and quiet.  It’s the come down after a night out.  It can be outdoorsy, or indoorsy, urban or rural.  It’s nocturnal, but also sleepy.  Prey and predator. It’s weekend and weekday.  It’s social, sort of, but also solitary.  It’s adult.

7.  Midnight really works in the UK.  We have one time-zone, and most of the countries near us don’t use it. And our midnight is the best one.  Asia is waking up, the US is coming home from work….   The international clock is based here.  In Greenwich (or wherever…).  We’re not the first to celebrate the new day, we’re halfway.  If every time-zone could nominate a second favourite midnight, it would probably be ours.  Our hour.

8. Midnight comes as a ready made brand.  It’s been immortalised in movies:  Midnight in Paris – Woody Allen’s biggest grossing film, X-Rated Oscar winning Midnight Cowboy (Everybody’s talkin;), Midnight Express, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.  Midnight’s Children (also a book, it is said…) about the birth of a nation.

It features in Gladys Knight’s biggest hit. With the pips (about which, more in a mo), the M83 epic, Midnight City, a Sufjan Stevens delight, The Midnight Clear (see below). It is pregnant with possibilities in a way that 11pm and 1am are not.  Any number of commercial partners would love to tap into these brand points (except Midnight Express, but even a courier firm might snap that up). Special offers that start at midnight (watch the programme and order the stuff) would be a lovely hook.

9.  It is un-colonised by other TV programmes  Some programme genres own certain time slots (quizzes at 5, news at 6pm and 10-pm and the whole of 6am – 9am), soaps at 7-8 and so on.  Midnight is up for grabs.

10. Audiences like an arc.  They enjoy a point of completion.  They like a sense of being anchored.  Midnight represents the apex.  And we’re driven by light and sleep based circadian rhythms, and midnight is as good a start point as any.

11. It’s late, but not too late. The sense of a school-night might limit the potential, but COME ON.  I’m typing this at 2am, people DO stay UP..  (Actually, 2am IS quite late).  Viewers are often alone as other house-mates have gone to sleep. They are prepared to take risks.  If anything there seems to be LESS to watch t midnight in 2012 now than there used to be.

12. When we think of MIDNIGHT, a range of images and sounds comes to mind, does it not – it comes with a visual and aural lexicon.  It’s very television in that respect – it has a look and a sound.  (The internet is rubbish with time).  You know what about television and midnight?  TV can (as they say on X Factor) make the time slot its own, instead of giving up.  Midnight also looks nice graphically… a clock-face with arms sticking straight up (whereas 6.30 looks like a clock that’s been surprised in the shower),

a series of pips,

or a massive dong.


What sort of programme would audiences want?

Something which captures the sense of a beginning and an end.  Shouldn’t be overly musical – too prone to split audiences.  NOT aimed at the young.  There are still more 55+s around at midnight than young people.  But yes, it can be aimed at more open, single, louche, adventurous people.  But don’t assume that they’re all drunk, or up for it.  Needn’t be way expensive (compared with, for instance, the massively over-hyped 7-9am).  Needn’t be iconoclastic.  Not trendy.  Definitely not that.

Needn’t be naughty or sweary (in fact, for the love of god, could it NOT be).   And please, NO gambling and prizes, because that’s shit.  Can include chat, of course.  Should do.  Could be structured (of course), but flexible. Could have an identity that flexes by day of week.  Cosy, but not too much.  Live if possible.

Think of an audience of waiters, chefs, actresses and cabbies who have just knocked off… what would they want to watch to wind down?   Would help to be on a BIG channel too (BBC2, after Newsnight?), so it can achieve critical mass.  Can be forward thinking (mañana), or gently nostalgic (hey, remember how we felt at 10am this morning).

In fact, bollocks… take the magazine format that works well on This Morning or those weekend cooking programmes (but without all the sodding food), and re-engineer it for 12 hours later.  Run it from 11.30 until 12.30 with some sort of dramatic hinge at midnight.  And, don’t call it ‘late night’ whatever.  Call it MIDNIGHT something.

Come on Executives, make it a New Day’s Resolution for 2013.

On that note, Happy New Year, and also Happy New Day to all the readers of this blog.


M83: Midnight City

Sufjan Stevens:  The Midnight Clear.  ‘the clock, it sounds of properties’





  1. Would this idea find its place in an epilogue in your book? The point to think about is – Would such a program bring those not watching TV at that time to watch TV or would it help a network gain an otherwise fragmented audience?
    I see the point. For instance in India the 11 pm news is the last live program on a 24 hr news network. And often I used to shut the TV for the lack of any fresh program (i.e. not a repeat) after 11:30 pm.

    • Hello Harsh, I think it would do both. Keep viewers up and watching, and win audiences back that are currently surfing around hunting for something fresh.
      I’m actually confused about it. The BBC and commercial broadcasters pump money into breakfast TV, and live TV during the day, but late night is reserved for recorded programmes which don’t reference the timeslot, or chat-shows but only on specific days (we don’t have the US tradition of nightly talk-shows in the UK). Or they chase young viewers, turning off the older viewer that dominates TV viewership (including late night). Or the news channels carry on as normal but with a newspaper preview, but that’s not stimulating enough, and besides,.. newspapers? I think audiences want something different. At ITV we looked at this, and there IS a specific late night audience mindset which is currently unfulfilled. Obviously there are costs with late night TV, especially if you have a studio audience. And you’d need talented presenters. But someone should give it a serious go.

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