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THE MEN FROM AUNTIE WHO'LL CHALLENGE ITV; Beeb fill nine o'clock news slot with stars.

THE BBC are set to unleash Victor Meldrew, Will Smith and Angus Deayton on ITV as part of a ratings war.

The trio will be among the first stars to appear on BBC1 at 9pm when the news is shifted to ten o'clock later this month.

And Beeb bosses are hoping to steal a march on rival ITV by serving up a diet of comedy, drama and entertainment.

Yesterday, ITV was hastily tweaking its schedule as the battle to clinch ratings reached epic proportions.

The first replacement for BBC1's Nine O'Clock News, when it vacates its weekday slot for the first time in 30 years on October 16, is classic comedy One Foot in the Grave, starring Scots actor Richard Wilson as grumpy Victor Meldrew.

The following day the station will screen the TV premiere of movie blockbuster Men in Black starting at 8.30pm and running through to the news at 10pm.

On Wednesday 18, viewers will be shown from 8.30pm the new series of costume drama The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Richard E Grant, while Thursday's newly vacated 9pm slot will now house Lenny Henry's schoolroom drama Hope and Glory.

Friday's replacement is quiz Have I Got News For You, hosted by Angus Deayton, followed by a repeat of The Vicar of Dibley.

Yesterday one BBC source said: "ITV promised genuine quality programming after dumping News at Ten. They failed to deliver.

"This is genuine top-notch entertainment."

Last night ITV executives responded by extending the two 30-minute week-night episodes of Who Wants to be a Millionaire to hour-long episodes.

And they replaced medical drama Peak Practice with a repeat of Frost, starring David Jason.

They have also re- scheduled a documentary about Andrew Morton's biography of the Queen on Thursday, October 18

Last night an ITV spokeswoman said: "ITV is having a very good autumn - we think we have got a very strong schedule and on that basis we have made small tactical alterations rather than wholesale changes."
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Author:Methven, Nicola
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Oct 5, 2000
Words:330
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