ITV stays phone-in course with new sked

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LONDON -- Elvis, acts of God and a new game show highlight ITV's upcoming winter schedule.

Connie Fisher, who made her name as Maria in London stage musical "The Sound of Music," is making her TV debut in "Caught in a Trap," about a woman obsessed with Elvis Presley. Ray Winstone stars in a dark tale of obsessive love called "The Changeling," while CGI-laden disaster film "The Flood" brings together ITV drama regular David Suchet ("Poirot"), Robert Carlyle and Nigel Planer.

Still reeling from the call-in phone-line scandals that will see ITV refunding millions of pounds to callers, director of drama Simon Shaps put a brave face on what he admitted had been a "terrible year" for TV broadcasters in the U.K.

Shaps said ITV will continue with phone-voting shows and has built viewer participation into a forthcoming talent show called "Rock Rivals," where viewers will pick the winner through a phone vote much like they do in "X-Factor."

Kudos, the producer of "Spooks" and "Life on Mars" for the BBC, will bring a six-part crime drama called "The Fixer," starring Peter Mullan, Tamzin Outhwaite and Liz White.

Celebrity TV chef Marco Pierre White and star of ITV's "Hell's Kitchen" series has signed an exclusive three-year contract with ITV that will cover a new season of "Kitchen" as well as unspecified other projects.

In an attempt to double dip, ITV announced a pair of interlinking programs, the first is a primetime soap called "Echo Beach," starring Jason Donovan and Martine McCutcheon. The second is a scripted, behind-the-scenes comedy of the making of "Echo Beach," complete with a dictatorial producer played by Ben Miller.

The shows will be played back to back and be part of ITV's relaunched schedule that features a return of the "News at Ten" at 10 p.m., ITV's flagship news program that was moved to 10:30 p.m. in an ill-fated attempt to compete better against the BBC.

ITV also is pinning a lot of hope on new game show "Duel," to be made by Ant & Dec's production company Gallowgate TV but which will not have the famous duo as its presenters. It is a competitive money-ladder show, which ITV hopes will replicate the success of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire"

According to Paul Jackson, ITV's director of entertainment and comedy, it is the first game show he has seen in two years that has interested him. The show is planned as a key feature for Saturday night's schedule, Jackson said.
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