In 1998, ITV decided to scrap its renowned news programme, News At Ten. It was the biggest change ever to hit the ITV network.
The flagship news programme would be axed and replaced with a new evening show at 6:30 - slap bang in the middle of the normal 6-7pm regional news slot.
The ITV companies all reacted to the changes differently. Many reduced their news programmes to half hour shows, putting on other regional programmes before it.
Tyne Tees took the other approach, and moved the starting time of North East Tonight half an hour forward. They also seized the opportunity to bring a new format to the show.
North East Tonight's new format was modelled yet again on Yorkshire TV's combination of the a separate lifestyle and news programme.
Format is perhaps too strong a word to assign to the chaotic programme that followed. Tyne Tees decided it couldn't just have lifestyle in the first section of the show, and that it needed some news. Hence, the show would start off with Mike Neville saying hello, followed by him reading a news story.
One story in, Mike would hand over to Pam Royle, who would then present the lifestyle segment, Primetime. Primetime was in essence, a show within a show; a 25 minute section with its own theme tune and title sequence, which concentrated primarily on lifestyle issues like health, gardening, animals and entertainment - all of which had previously been spread around in North East Tonight.
Just before six, Pam (sat on her sofa) would hand over to Mike and the third title sequence of the night would be shown to introduce North East Tonight's news segment, which would be followed by Mike doing the headlines and the rest of the news.
To call it 'a bit disjointed' would be an understatement - the programme was having one great big whopping identity crisis. Three title sequences and two different theme tunes all for one hour long programme? It was too much.
The whole mess led to one big question - why couldn't Primetime have been a stand alone programme? Were they that scared that no one would watch if Mike Neville wasn't there in some role or other? And why on earth did Mike do a news story at 5:30 that he'd repeat at six?
And just as the North East was asking these questions, it was all over. The axing of Primetime was swift and unannounced. On Friday Pam Royle was at her sofa. On Monday she was back presenting lunch and afternoon news bulletins for the north of the region, and a new opt out in North East Tonight. The Primetime set was abandoned, regional opt outs introduced and Pam Royle started sitting next to Mike again...
Throughout it's run Northern Life would keep a consistent format. North East Tonight would prove to be less lucky. Since the re-launch in March, the show (like most ITV regional news shows) had been in trouble, and in what looked like a panic measure, Primetime went. North East Tonight changed again.
The revised format saw Mike doing a full headline run down at 5:30pm, before handing over to the new Newcastle and Teesside opt outs.
Why the opt outs returned is unclear. In their franchise bid in 1992, the station committed itself to regional opt outs in the main programme at 6, which it did until 1996 when North East Tonight began. Why Tyne Tees should suddenly start fulfilling it's franchise obligations again after two and a half years of not doing, is unknown.
The opt outs looked even more pointless when you compared both services. Those lucky enough to get signals from both the north and south would find that both were identical, with stories read in the same order, using the same video footage.
The only differences were that Teesside was generally five seconds behind Newcastle, and they both opt outs had different news-readers in different studios in different parts of the North East. The majority of the stories covered in the 'regional roundup' were then repeated again after six, as part of the main news.
After this, North East Tonight would do all the features that were previously part of Primetime. The only difference was that the features were now presented by Mike from behind a big desk and not by Pam sat on a sofa.
Well it was mostly Mike. To make up for the fact that she had been demoted, Pam would introduce one of these features herself, and usually got to interview a related person afterwards. Nice for Pam, but utterly pointless. Viewers in the north would get to see Pam doing their news opt outs but in the South, viewers would see one presenter sat there just to do one small feature in an hour long programme. Nice gesture, but why bother?
At six, Pam was relegated again and the programme would revert back to serious news along with more opt outs shoved in, again with the same news stories being read by different news-readers.
Five months later, and after his annual August holiday, Mike was back and the show had been tweaked again. The main title sequence used in March 1999, which had been ditched a month later, returned on September 3, 1999, along with a sofa which looked suspiciously like the Primetime sofa. This was sat in front of a backdrop of the Tyne Bridge which looked amazingly like one used during a phase of Northern Life.
The return of the sofa was the only major change for the first half of the show. The second half just saw Mike and the co-presenter swap seats.
It's debatable whether a set created out of cobbled collection of old parts would make the show better, but three format changes in six months was obviously too much for the team and thus it stayed. For a whole year...
In Pictures: The Primetime Era
First, a quick look at before the launch.
With the new look show, and the new time, Tyne Tees were naturally keen to make sure everyone knew when to tune in, and ran an extensive trailer campaign telling everyone of the new start time, and the new format. As ever, they left us guessing who would get the sofa!
After the final News At Ten (well until they brought it back) was the final 'old style' North East News. At the end of the bulletin, presenter Jonathan Morrell, in the Teesside studio, tells viewers about the new look show, and the much much later time of the late evening bulletin. The new late night programme was to move even later, from 10:20pm to 11:20.
The Primetime era saw the booming, slightly over-the-top pre-recorded announcement abandoned and replaced with a different ident each day. As such, the dramatic darkened studio shot was ditched as well. The first thing we saw was the new title sequence now with added purple and dramatic shots of regional scenery.
Note how Mike Neville's name is now also smaller on the logo. Tyne Tees had obviously outgrown trying to rub in to BBC North East And Cumbria that the ITV had poached the BBC's former star.
From the titles to the statutory shot of Mike Neville - some things never change. However the news set has altered.
A new backdrop perhaps? A lick of paint? A re-do of the Tyne Bridge picture? 'Fraid not.
The change is that subtle that we need to place the old set next to the new one to see what's changed. First is the 1996 set, second the 1999 one.
Besides a few lighting changes, nothing much has changed, except the desk... For some reason the low bit of the desk in the 1996 version has been filled in and is now the same level as the rest of the desk.
Whether Tyne Tees went out to Ikea and got a whole new desk, we just don't know. If it was, why bother getting an identical desk to the old one in the style. If it was the old desk with a patch on it, why bother? Perhaps we'll never know.
Anyway, enough about the dramatic changes in desk! Instead of a headline rundown, we now got Mike telling us what was on the show. This consisted of some nice clips of features, with a lovely green caption overlaid.
And at the end, they'd all be combined into one single 'Coming Up' slide, complete with a nice clashing of green, blue and purple.
After Mike did a news story or two (which would always be repeated after six) it was time to hand over to Pam Royle and Primetime. As part of the hand-over, we got a nice ariel shot of the studio, complete with the sight of three cameras and cameramen turning round!
And then, the second title sequence of the night, as Primetime's rather red titles came on.
Realising that any good news set needs a monitor for no apparent reason, one was built into the rather colourful pillar that formed part of the set.
To be fair, it wasn't just the pillar that was colourful. Look at that lovely blue strip at the top, obviously borrowed from the main set. Goes lovely with that backdrop...
Primetime had its own red captions too.
Time for an ad break. Primetime had its own 'back soon' and 'welcome back' slides.
The old What's On slots on Thursdays and Fridays were replaced by On The Town and Time Out, whose logos are above. Time Out was dedicated to events happening in the region, where as On The Town was focused on gigs, films and the theatre.
The set looks slightly empty with just Pam in it. Note the rather odd design of the coffee table - metallic base and MDF wood style top!
At just before six, Primetime's finished for the day, and it's back over to Mike for a rundown in the headlines.
The rest of the show was very much in the same style as it had always been, with the only real changes being the captions and slides gaining new purple tinges.
In Pictures: The first show of the Primetime era
The first show went slightly differently as we were greeted by Mike with a cheery smile on his face. Not that Mike doesn't always look that happy...
Not everything went smoothly. Part of the caption seems strangely missing from this report...
Still, Mike doesn't mind as he hands over to Pam.