GRAND SLAM OF DARTS NO 4.
The GSOD gives darts fans the opportunity to not only see a different round-robin format and the chance to see dart players from both codes in action, it also provides a different broadcaster (ITV) the opportunity to showcase the sport. With SKY TV having raised the bar in taking levels of professionalism and innovation in sports presentation to new heights, ITV has had a tough act to follow but the consensus amongst darts fans is that the ITV network have done a good job thus far.
The advent of the GSOD signalled the end of a long break from screening televised darts at ITV, although despite this the company has a rich history in showing darts over the years. The company - via its South West based franchise ^Westward^ was actually the first UK based television station to screen darts, when it hosted the Westward TV Invitational (won by William Jeffrey) in 1962. From 1970, ITV also screened the News of the World Championship - which although it had it^s early rounds in a pub based regional tournament environment, is widely recognised as the forerunner to the World Championship and was the most pestigious Championship of its time. The roll-call of winners - including messrs Bristow, Lowe, George and Taylor providing testimony to the tournaments standing in the game.
In 1972, ITV was also responsible for screening ^Indoor League^ - a show produced by Sid Waddell and fronted by cricket star Fred Trueman, which introduced the world to the delights of a variety of pub based activities including: Shove ha^penny, skittles, arm-wrestling and most notably, darts. Whilst the show has a very dated feel about it now and the aforementioned activities failed to capture the public imagination, the show was an important factor in raising awareness about the game of darts within the general public.
Through the rest of the 1970s and early 1980s, through it^s regular Saturday afternoon sports show - ^World of Sport^, ITV also regularly showcased televised darts and in 1984 at the MFI World Matchplay it became the first station to screen a 9 dart finish when in a quarter-final clash against Keith Deller, John Lowe achieved darts ultimate feat - securing an incredible £102,000 bonus in the process. However with the cancellation of ^World of Sport^^ by ITV a year later and a shifting change in attitudes - particularly amongst television executives towards darts in general. The game was to largely vanish from ITV screens for the best part of 20 years.
In many ways the lack of ITV interest in the game was a major factor in the darts split in 1993 - with the leading players of the day upset at an increasing lack of exposure for themselves and the game in general caused by a diminishing amount of TV tournaments. Although ITV did screen the very first PDC (then WDC) televised tournament in 1992, albeit shown only on Anglia TV when they screened the Lada UK Masters. The tournament - which was the trigger for the eventual split a year later, was ironically won by Mike Gregory who eventually returned to the BDO ranks shortly afterwards.
This was to be the last televised darts action seen on ITV until 1999 when the network screened the head to head clash of World Champions when it pitched BDO champ Raymond van Barneveld and his PDC counterpart Phil Taylor into a sixty minute clash, to see which player was the king of oche - with Taylor eventually taking the honours. However whilst the one-off game was a hit with darts fans it failed to capture the imagination of sports fans in general and it was not until 2007 - by which time televised darts had through SKY and the PDC become a roraing success that ITV decided to once again screen the sport when it showed the inaugural GSOD.
ITV have signed contracts to show the GSOD tournament until 2010 and it remains to be seen whether the station will renew it^s interest thereafter - worryingly for dart fans the network did not show the recent PDC European Championship - won by Phil Taylor, after it screened the 2008 tournament. However the station has suffered financial difficulties as a result of the recent credit crunch and it is hoped that a recovering economy and sufficient audience ratings wiill see ITV continue its interest in the game and allow dart folowers the opportunity of getting a fix of their favourite sport on terrestrial television.