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Tonight (1999 TV programme)

Tonight (often referred to as The Tonight Programme) is a British current affairs programme, produced by ITV Studios (formerly Granada Television) and ITN for the ITV network, replacing the long-running investigative series World in Action in 1999. Previously airing twice-weekly, on Monday and Friday evenings at 8.00pm (ITV Wales, STV and UTV would often air the programme at different times or different days, to make way for regional programming), the show runs the gamut from human interest-led current affairs to investigative journalism. Tonight has conducted interviews with a plethora of political and public figures, including U.S. President George W. Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair and former U.S First Lady Hillary Clinton. From 1999–2007, the programme was known as Tonight with Trevor McDonald.

Tonight titles 2013.png
Current titles (2013–)
Also known asThe Tonight Programme
Tonight with Trevor McDonald
GenreNews, current affairs, human interest
Presented byTrevor McDonald (1999–2007)
Julie Etchingham (2010–)
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Running time25 minutes
Production company(s)ITV Studios for
ITV News & Current Affairs
Original networkITV
Picture format1080i HDTV
Original release8 April 1999 (1999-04-08) –
Preceded byWorld in Action
Related showsITV News
The Agenda
On Assignment
External links

The programme currently airs in the Thursday night timeslot at 7.30pm, with Julie Etchingham as host.


The format of Tonight consists of a number of long-form news stories which present an angle on a major development, often following up on an investigation instigated by a national newspaper or news network. The stories are introduced by Julie Etchingham.

Many topics centre on allegations of wrongdoing and corruption on the part of corporations, politicians, and other public officials. The show also features profiles. The profiles are occasionally of celebrities and offer a biography of the figure, followed by a sit-down interview. Rather than offering a simple publicity platform, a celebrity will often feature after a period of intense media scrutiny, such was the case when the model Naomi Campbell appeared after there were claims she had a substance abuse problem. Non-celebrity profiles usually feature a person who has accomplished an heroic action.

The programme's format differs significantly to newsmagazine Panorama, which airs on the BBC, as it often remains focused upon a sensationalist and human interest-led agenda, rather than political or world affairs. Many of the topics are follow-ups to stories from tabloid newspapers, chosen for their level of public interest.

The show gained greater public attention for its high-profile interviews, such as with the parents of murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor, the five suspects in the Stephen Lawrence murder case and Trevor Rees-Jones, the sole survivor of the crash which killed Princess Diana.

Following the September 11 attacks in New York City in 2001, the show shifted its focus to more "heavyweight" topics such as the impending war and featured numerous reports from Afghanistan and Washington respectively, with Trevor McDonald interviewing U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in December of the same year.

In an emotionally charged and highly controversial episode, airing on 30 October 2001, Martin Bashir interviewed the television star Michael Barrymore for the first time about the events that led to a man dying in the swimming pool at his home. The entertainer said he felt remorse and responsibility, igniting a tabloid backlash. The edition was the most-watched in Tonight's history.

In recent years, the show's ratings have dropped dramatically, a result of airing against the perennially popular EastEnders on BBC One.

Tonight will often react to major news stories as they happen, with scheduled ITV shows pre-empted. Notable major events in recent times have been "Terror in London - A Tonight Special" after the terrorist attack in London (2017 Westminster attack) and "The Manchester Attack - A Tonight Special" after the Manchester Arena bombing.

Reacting to the shock announcement of the 2017 United Kingdom general election 2 months previous, Tonight programmed special 'Leader Interview' specials - which gave each of the major political parties their own respective programmes via an interview with Julie Etchingham. Family and friends of the party leaders were also interviewed.

It was after "The Leader Interviews: Theresa May" programme when the Prime Minister Theresa May went viral for revealing the naughtiest thing she had ever done was 'running through fields of wheat’ as a child in her interview with Julie Etchingham.


While the show often features interviews with global newsmakers, Tonight sometimes makes global headlines itself.

Living with Michael Jackson
A 3 February 2003 episode featuring Martin Bashir interviewing Michael Jackson led to the singer being charged for sexual molestation. An interview with Jackson was very special, for it had been extremely rare for Jackson to allow such access to his personal life, or indeed to talk so freely about his childhood. The special two-hour episode was heavily criticised, with numerous claims that the documentary had presented the singer in a unfavourable light. After the episode aired on U.S. network ABC, a follow-up "rebuttal" interview with Jackson was broadcast, featuring a surplus of material Bashir had omitted from his film.
Charles Ingram
In the same year (21 April 2003), the magazine aired segments from the 2001 Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? episode in which Major Charles Ingram was accused of cheating. It was the first time outside of court that the clips had aired and the edition was heavily promoted throughout the week, airing immediately after a highly rated episode of Coronation Street. Again, the programme was criticised for its bias, with Charles Ingram claiming in an interview with Diane Sawyer for US network ABC that Tonight refused to allow him to defend the allegations on air.[1] This episode would later air in the US as a special episode of Primetime on 8 May 2003.

The above episodes attracted 15.32 and 16.1 million viewers respectively.

On air teamEdit


Sir Trevor McDonald presented links for the programme. During this time the programme was known as Tonight with Trevor McDonald. He left in late 2007, with the return of News at Ten on Monday, 14 January 2008 which McDonald co-presented, along with Julie Etchingham, until November 2008.

However, on 6 November 2008 McDonald presented links again for the programme, though this is thought to be a one-off as it was a high-profile 9pm slot. Trevor will stay with the programme, to report on high-profile stories. When he wasn't presenting links, he was an interviewer talking to people in some places.

In October 2009, it was announced that Julie Etchingham would present the relaunched programme from early 2010 – with the show airing once a week on Thursdays at 7:30pm.[2]


The programme's reporters have included:

Guest reportersEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Corner, John; Annette Hill (2006). "Value, Form and Viewing in Current Affairs Television: Tonight with Trevor McDonald". Journal of British Cinema and Television. Edinburgh University Press. 3 (1): 34–46. doi:10.3366/JBCTV.2006.3.1.34.


External linksEdit

Preceded by
ITV News at Ten
RTS: Television Journalism
Programme of the Year
(The Prime Suspects)

Succeeded by
ITV Evening News
Preceded by
Beneath The Veil
RTS: Television Journalism
Programme of the Year

Succeeded by
Living with Michael Jackson:
A Tonight Special