TELEVISION The Girlie Show, C4

The latest late-night sleaze-fest has a liberating message for women: we're clever enough to behave as badly as blokes. Oh dear.
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The Independent Culture
There are 10 commandments of television entertainment, most of them pretty obvious. Thou shalt not omit adultery. Thou shalt steal ideas from the other side. Thou shalt covet Neighbours. Thou shalt have no other gods before me, unless her name be Anthea Turner. Etc.

The commandment least contravened, and therefore least invoked, insists that thy advertising budget shall not exceed thy production budget. Conventionally, a channel will pump money into promotion only for programmes on which sizeable bucks have already been blown. In the case of The Girlie Show, the lion's share of the budget appears to have gone on a massive nationwide poster campaign featuring the trio of snarling presenterettes.

Unfortunately, a programme cannot measure its impact on the size of the columns it excites in the chattering broadsheets; otherwise, Peter York's Eighties would be the greatest series made. The hype-ventilated opener was inevitably a damp squib: the first job for two of the babes with attitude was to announce that, thanks to a restrictive work permit, the third babe with attitude would actually be downgraded to guest status. As Rachel Williams, a seven-foot lesbian clotheshorse, was touted as the biggest draw, her conspicuous absence sparks off memories of rain-sodden bonfire nights when the Catherine-wheel resisted ignition.

For the second show, a good fist was made of papering over this crack. You could see the whirring brain of an ideas team: if Rachel is English on her mother's side, let's roll out her mother to be very English, but also - and here's the genius part - very rude! On she came, and though she had plainly refused to utter the words herself, she did admit under questioning that she had taught her daughter to say "willy" and "fanny".

The bulk of the show relies on the presentation skills of Sara Cox, a Wonderbra'd Lancastrian who pretends to be sluttish, and Clare Gorham, who plainly has a clause in her contract doubling her money every time she does a mock toff accent. Their job is to say "shag" a lot, and generally offer women a sexually pro-active role model: all mouth in trousers.

Most features deliver a variety of kit-off or another: mooning yobs, topless firemen, a guest singer who torches his pubic hair, a rectum that extinguishes a match. There was even a reheated report on the New York policewoman who posed for Playboy. No matter that Channel 4 devoted a documentary to her in last year's Red Light Zone; indeed, they opened the season with it. Let's exhume it for the report on how women in uniform turn men on.

Wedge-wise, we may still be at the thin end. Future items almost certainly include organising an orgy (table placings and what have you) and sex- aid consumer testing (this week: cat o' nine tails). There are eight more shows to fill.

The Girlie Show has a perfectly harmless aim (it doesn't quite qualify as an agenda), which is to show that it's okay for women to break wind in public, too. On its own terms, it's a brilliant success. But it pays male boorishness the compliment of aping it, in every sense of the word. It has become the thing it deplores, proving women are spending too much time at the ironying board.