I'd forgotten Tonight with Trevor McDonald started life as a 60 minutes style programme until I was trying to work out why he used to have Thursdays rather than Fridays off - it initially aired on Thursdays at 10pm before being cut to 45 minutes and airing on Wednesdays at 10.15pm, after the Champions League and Corrie at 9.45pm. Eventually it moved to Mon/Fri at 8pm, before being cut to one episode a week and moving to Thursdays.
Yes, the initial intention of Tonight was to be a British version of 60 Minutes, with several reports over the hour, which numerous broadcasters have attempted - Here and Now on the Beeb was another one - and it's constantly failed to catch on. And indeed Tonight was a bit of a high-profile flop at the start, the ratings were very low and there were genuine fears it wouldn't last the year. For the first few months BBC1 had They Think It's All Over and Frank Skinner at the same time which were pulling in enormous audiences, it was a really cushy slot for BBC1.
What didn't help, as I remember people saying at the time, was that the first edition was devoted in its entirety to an interview with the Stephen Lawrence suspects, which was a big story at the time and got in the papers, but generally I think people were a bit uneasy about using that as a big splash, it felt a bit tabloid and seemed to give them a bit of an easy ride, and also it meant the first edition, with a single report, was nothing like how the show was going to be like on a weekly basis. It's like when Richard and Judy had OJ Simpson on the first edition of their chat show a few years earlier, it dominated the whole thing and so got it off to a bit of a false start.
As you say, the ratings were so bad that in the autumn of 1999 it moved to Wednesdays, when it was at 10.15, in the period when Corrie was at 9.45 after a Champions League match, in the hope of giving it a decent lead-in. In those days, with the second group stage, there was pretty much a Champions League match every week in the autumn so it was a very regular slot, although I remember when there wasn't a match - and hence, Corrie at 9.45 - they generally wouldn't do Tonight. And for the next two years Tonight was on Wednesdays in the second half of the year and Thursdays in the first half (when there were fewer Champions League games).
Then in January 2001, News at Ten returned and initially Tonight moved to 10.20, but seemingly this was considered too late for a supposed flagship show (later even than Panorama at the time in its dead slot of 10.15 on Sundays), so after a few weeks of that it was split into two and moved to 8pm on Mondays and Fridays, and the 60 Minutes-style magazine format was dropped completely.
P.S. Backing up to Kirsty Young and I think when she joined she did effectively replace Dermot as Trevor's main stand in on the Evening News (which I recall as being every Thursday - think that's when he did Tonight initially) - I guess that was part of the deal to entice her away from a higher salary and arguably higher profile role at 5 News to front the somewhat less sexy Lunchtime News on ITV.
ITV News was much higher profile than 5 News, even at lunchtimes. You could say 5 News was a big deal for its first year or so, and Kirsty was certainly a major figure in its launch, but by the end of 1999 it wasn't - the main bulletin was at 6pm in those days, so the ratings were tiny. They did advertising around that time with the slogan "See it first on 5 at 6pm (repeated at 6.30 on ITV)", which was quite clever (and I think ITV complained about it), but obviously the elephant in the room was that you could see it on BBC1 at six as well. It was also the height of the three Fs era of C5 as well so it had a pretty poor reputation.
When she moved to ITV, part of the package was that she'd do other shows as well, so she took over Eye Spy, the police videos show which was a decent rater for ITV for a few years, and of course the disastrous The People Versus. And actually I think her first appearance on ITV, before she started on the news, was in January 2000 when she presented a Saturday night show with Pip Schofield called Predictions, where they'd asked various people twelve months earlier to predict what was going to happen in 1999 and they would be revealed on air. Actually I think they did that the following year as well.
Re: Kirsty Young - yes, she came in on the Lunchtime News in Jan 2000 and was promoted to the Evening News a year later when News at Ten returned, but Mary had been bought in for her maternity cover. She returned mid-year and famously anchored much of the live coverage on 9/11 - indeed her talking on air to her husband in New York is one of my strongest memories of the broadcasts that day. She left soon after though to return to Five, going on "Gardening leave" soon after announcing it.
Yes, I don't think she'd been back for very long at all before 9/11, maybe only a month or so. As you say, she didn't last very long after that, because she was back on C5 in January 2002, getting on the cover of the Radio Times.
I honestly haven't seen any evidence of anyone other than Trevor, Julia, John or Dermot presenting NAT between 1992 and 1999. I do know that in 1992, titles were prepared for Trevor, Carol, Alastair, Dermot, John, Jon Snow and Nicholas - in that order. By 1993 Alastair's titles had been replaced by Julia's. And then when the VOs were changed in late 1994 (to "from ITN" rather than "from the HQ of ITN") they had reduced to Trevor, Julia, John, Dermot, Nicholas and Carol, in that order. Although I don't believe Nick or Carol ever presented. I've certainly seen no evidence to suggest otherwise.
As I've said before, when they relaunched News at Ten in 1992, Julia Somerville wasn't a regular presenter as she'd just been absent for several months as she was seriously ill. To seemingly ease her back in, she would appear on News at Ten a couple of times a week presenting something called Focus On Britain, but everyone thought this seemed a bit of a waste of time, and her talents, and after a few months of that it was dropped and she became a regular newsreader again.
Last edited by Steve Williams on 2 September 2020 8:32pm