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South Bank Show comes to Sky Arts | reviews, news & interviews

South Bank Show comes to Sky Arts

South Bank Show comes to Sky Arts

Long-running arts show rescued by pay-to-view network

Melvyn Bragg, back at the helm of the famous arts strand

Three years after it was, as they say, "let go" by ITV, The South Bank Show, with Melvyn Bragg at the helm, is set to return on Sky Arts in 2012. The idea has been in the wind since Sky Arts revived The South Bank Show Awards in January this year, but the news was formally announced yesterday (30 November).

Reflecting on a television career that began in 1963 when he landed a job as "Ken Russell's gofer", Bragg said that making arts television was what he'd always wanted to do and remains his passion.

"I'm really, really chuffed to bits that The South Bank Show is back in town," he declared. "I wanted to keep doing that programme very strongly. I'd been away from it for long enough to know that I wanted to keep doing it. I've still got plenty of television to do."

The show has initally been commissioned for six programmes, due to run after The South Bank Show Awards which have been moved from January to May. It may even retain its familiar Lloyd Webber-does-Paganini theme tune.

"It's going to be an effort because these things are," said Bragg, "but I want to do it, and if I can get the team I want they're bloody good, they know what they're doing and they'll be hungry for it too. It's certainly going to be substantial. It's going to be an hour on a big subject, and I think I'm going to keep the parameters of having living artists in their prime. Timing can be difficult - for instance we did [artist] Gerhard Richter in 2003 when we should be doing him now, but never mind. Sometimes you strike it lucky, sometimes you don't." 

The South Bank Show announcement coincides with a 300 per cent boost to Sky Arts's budget, and network director James Hunt describes the news as "truly thrilling", citing South Bank Show films on Talking Heads and Saul Bellow among his most formative television memories. For his part, Bragg hails the energy and enthusiasm he has found at Sky Arts, comparing it to the BBC in the early 1960s.

"There are very short lines of decision, which for a producer and a director is such a relief," he said. "If you ask for a decision they'll give you a yes or no very quickly."

Bragg claims he harbours no ill will towards ITV for dropping The South Bank Show after 33 years. Might the reappearance of the SBS prompt ITV to hit back with a new arts strand of its own?

"I hope ITV does more arts programmes, yes," he said. "Very much so. The more the merrier."


It's going to be an hour on a big subject, and I'm going to keep the parameters of having living artists in their prime

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