This section essentially covers the period from 1 January 1993 right up to March 2005 with the closure of the Northam studio complex and auctioning of its unwanted contents.
The aftermath of the controversial "closed franchise auction" that took place in 1991 was probably predictable in the case of TVS: Meridian was chosen as its successor, and was different from both Southern and TVS in the sense that it used independent producers (and production companies) to produce the majority of its programmes, at least to begin with. Compared with the TVS era (and even Southern's output), networked shows - after an initial flourish with ideas such as Full Stretch - were much fewer in number than before.
Unlike TVS, Meridian was able to promote its programmes on ITV before taking over the franchise, so for a few days before the end of 1992 there was a strange mixture of TVS branding and promotions for forthcoming Meridian programmes, so this time round the majority of viewers were probably aware of what was going to happen on the first day of January 1993. Before Meridian took over from TVS, their operation was based in a portacabin in the Northam studios car park, a similar situation to TVS prior to taking over from Southern Television in 1982, though TVS were more co-operative in relation to dealing with a handover than Southern Television were.
Midnight on New Years' Day was not a good time for a formal introduction of a new ITV company; the viewers at home were probably either too busy celebrating the New Year or asleep, so there was just a brief ten minute introduction to Meridian and its new programming. This programme initially had a few minor sound level problems which were rumoured to be caused by disgruntled ex-TVS technicians, but generally speaking the launch could be regarded as successful.
The very first commercial to be shown on Meridian was for the Ford Fiesta Meridian car, which was basically a standard Ford Fiesta with blue metallic paint and a few extras such as a sunroof, but it did feature a Meridian sticker on the rear tailgate. ITV franchises like TVS had produced promotional car stickers before ("The best view of the South"), but this was the first (and probably last) time that a car featured an ITV franchise name as a special edition. Available from "Southern Ford Dealers", the Fiesta Meridian was a reasonably common sight on the region's roads during the next ten years, but sadly only 37 Fiesta Meridians are still licensed for road use as of 2012.
Any change of ITV franchise holder comes complete with a degree of uncertainty, namely steering a careful path between not alienating existing viewers whilst avoiding the mistakes that its unfortunate predecessor had made. And especially given the fate that had befallen previous owners of the South and South-East ITV franchise, luck was something that Meridian weren't going to take for granted this time round therefore it had to make a positive impression from the start. If you had to describe Meridian Broadcasting on-screen during the 1990s, a fairly accurate comparison would be that it was Southern Television reincarnated for the 1990s albeit with fewer nationally networked programmes; a conservative mix of regional programming with (arguably) a traditional middle class bias.
Later that same day at 7pm was the proper introduction to Meridian and its programmes entitled First Night On Meridian, with Michael Palin being the main presenter. During the programme he made a journey across the Meridian region using public transport, which was in direct contrast to the high profile 'all action' helicopter ride that Khalid Aziz made during the TVS opening show Bring In The New - obviously Meridian were intent on not making the same 'mistakes' that TVS made!
Whilst travelling by train, Michael Palin interviewed various members of the public to find out what they wanted from a new ITV service, though the answers as you might expect were fairly predictable. He travelled from Brighton in the east of the region across to Portsmouth, ending up on the Isle of Wight before travelling to Southampton. A few people who appear in Meridian's productions such as Tracey Ullman and Toyah Willcox were also featured.
First Night On Meridian interspersed Michael Palin's train and ferry journey with clips of forthcoming Meridian programmes such as A Class Act which was a comedy sketch show starring Tracey Ullman who had become successful in America after appearing on BBC2's Three Of A Kind. Other new entertainment programmes included Coltrane in a Caddilac (Robbie Coltraine doing a road trip across America in a car) as well as Full Stretch (see below) with 'many more' being promised at the time.
Other Meridian-commissioned programmes that were introduced included Wizadora for pre-school children, plus Zzap and Eye Of The Storm for older children. Later on other children's programming was introduced including Dog and Duck for pre-school children.
When TVS took over from Southern in 1982 the south-east region was enlarged, but when Meridian took over the franchise a new West sub-region was created in order to improve the area's local news coverage using a small news studio based at Newbury.
With the formal introduction over with, Meridian now had to prove that it was up to the task of replacing TVS as the ITV contractor for the South and South-East of England. Unfortunately for Meridian very few if any of its early networked productions had any lasting impact, which was a real shame given the potential that appeared to exist with some of the ideas that Meridian initially had to offer. Meridian produced very few of its own productions to begin with, because it predominantly commissioned them from independent producers as a "publisher-broadcaster".
As was usual with such a change, there were reassurances made to the viewers that favourite programmes such as Coronation Street will still continue to be shown despite the change from TVS to Meridian. However they would of course be now promoted using a different style from that used by TVS.
Meridian Tonight was the new early evening regional news programme that replaced Coast to Coast, with Debbie Thrower and Fred Dinenage presenting the South edition from the Northam studios in Southampton whilst Alison Holloway and Mike Debens presented the South-East edition from Maidstone.
Here is a view of the control room as rehearsals were taking place for Meridian Tonight at the new Newbury studio three days before Meridian launched, and the event was an opportunity for the Meridian news team to get to know each other and prepare for the big launch.
The prize for the most-hyped new series amongst those produced by Meridian for its launch just has to be awarded to Full Stretch (a comedy-cum-light-hearted drama series based on a luxury chauffeur-driven taxi business), but that's probably because it was Meridian's first primetime networked comedy; if this flopped then the future of Meridian's comedy output destined for the ITV network would be put in jeopardy.
Unfortunately for Meridian, Full Stretch only lasted the one series; it must have looked good on paper with a script penned by established writers Dick Clement and Ian Le Frenais, but ultimately it was slightly disappointing to watch, though it helped if you didn't expect it to be a traditional sitcom. Full Stretch is now available commercially on DVD, though it's a pity that The Making of Full Stretch documentary wasn't included as a bonus extra.
Meridian fared much better with its regional programmes; some such as Country Ways and TV Weekly had been inherited from its TVS predecessor but others were introduced such as A Tale of Four Cities, I Can Do That, Ambulance! and regional arts magazine The Pier as well as the short 'soapbox' programme Three Minutes with regional issues being covered in Loud And Clear, but probably the most successful new introduction was the gardening programme Grass Roots. One surprise was soon to be revealed; a brief revival of the Southern Television daytime favourite Houseparty featuring some of the descendants of the original presenters, which followed a reunion of the original cast as part of TV nostalgia series Southern Gold.
TVS had something called PO Box 13, and Meridian also had similar access programming for charities, community and other non-profit making groups - Freescreen and Three Minutes.
Pictured here is the South-East edition of Meridian Tonight in 1994. If anything, Meridian had far more in common with its Southern predecessor than TVS ever did, but Meridian's original brief as a "publisher-broadcaster" meant that producing networked productions was always going to be slightly more difficult than its predecessors, even including Southern Television. The failure of Full Stretch and other early Meridian productions was a major setback for the company as ITV's peak time networked output in general was becoming increasingly dominated by a handful of companies, especially as Granada and Carlton started acquiring various ITV franchises as the 1990s progressed, though period adventure series Hornblower was later on to be a notable exception.
Further new ideas for series were soon to emerge, such as Serve You Right, a consumer show originally presented by Bill Buckley and Caroline Righton, though some of Meridian's regional output was later combined with that of the HTV and Anglia ITV regions since all three franchises were for a while owned by UNM (United News and Media). UNM also owning a share of Channel 5 resulted in a few programmes such as Wildlife SOS being shown as 'regional' programmes on Meridian and/or Anglia/HTV before being shown nationally on Channel 5.
Initially Meridian Television was part of United News and Media (UNM), and when the ITV franchise ownership regulations were relaxed in 1994 UNM bought Anglia with HTV being acquired in 1997. After a failed 1999 proposal to merge the entire operations of Carlton and UNM, (Lord) Clive Hollick sold Meridian and Anglia to Granada in 2000 with HTV being passed on to Carlton (Granada at this point couldn't own all three franchises). UBM (as it became known) sold its share of Channel Five to RTL in July 2005.
This was the last Meridian ident that was used before a general ITV corporate look was subsequently adopted by all the non-Carlton English ITV regions, and the last ident to prominently feature the Meridian logo. Basically it was just the previous ident with an ITV logo added, and it was the first Meridian ident to feature the ITV logo. The days of the individual look were now numbered for the English ITV franchises, with the Carlton-owned regions already adopting their own universal corporate look by this time.
When the corporate English and Pockett-designed ITV 'hearts' look was introduced with the slogan "TV from the heart", this is what the end of the Meridian ident looked like at the time, with the heart-shaped shadows usually spinning on a vertical axis. This was often preceded by a short 'live action' sequence that featured a heart design as part of its theme, as was also the case with the other regions using this corporate identity, and the ident was used with two corporate jingles (the second being used for a few months before the hearts look was abandoned).
Along with the new corporate style idents, Meridian was now using programme promotion trailers from ITV's NPU (Network Promotions Unit) for networked programmes with the simple addition of a Meridian logo, though local programmes continued to use Meridian-produced promotions for a while longer. Meridian Tonight also adopted a matching 'blue' look for its presentation.
The adoption of ITV1 branding for all of the English regions plus Wales meant that the Meridian name was now consigned to just the ident shown before local programmes plus local news and weather programmes, and the same regional branding policy applied to all the other English ITV regions that were now all owned by ITV plc (Granada).
When ITV unveiled its new look for ITV1 on 2 February 2004 following the merger of Granada and Carlton, this is what the Meridian Tonight studio now looked like after the corporate makeover, with four boxes representing the 'itv1' logo.
Despite all the visual changes, the South edition of Meridian Tonight was still presented by Fred Dinenage and Debbie Thrower. Also note that Meridian Tonight wasn't yet broadcasting in widescreen but news programming was perhaps the last genre to switch to the widescreen picture format.
At this point the on-screen use of the Meridian logo may have been technically banished to the history books but it was still to be seen courtesy of the local weather forecast summary. The logo is no longer used and the Meridian name is nowadays only seen as part of the title of the early evening news programme.
Meridian moved out of the Northam studio complex (which was now too old and large for its requirements) later in 2004 and relocated to an industrial estate near Fareham, which was something that Meridian had initially planned to do when it won the ITV franchise but decided against doing so at the time; ITV Meridian has since moved again to another industrial unit near Fareham. All but 100 of the nearly 3000 unwanted items from the Northam studio complex were auctioned off on Thursday 3 March 2005, which included such things as monitors, cameras, lever arch files and canteen cutlery, plus Fred Dinenage's old newsreading chair and one of the portacabins that was originally used by TVS. Meridian's Northam studio complex remained untouched and in a derelict state until it was finally demolished in 2010, with the land remaining undeveloped as of April 2013.