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Being Modern: Channel 5


When it launched 15 years ago this week, we all knew what Channel 5 stood for. No, not the infamous "films, football and fucking" that then-chairman and CEO Dawn Airey so tidily summed up (almost as if she just wanted headlines), but rather Dayglo brights, weird orange balls and GIRL POWER! At least that's what it seemed to represent judging by the pre-launch ads starring everyone's favourites (ahem), the Spice Girls.

"Welcome to a brand new station/ 12345," they sang in tribute to that great modern poet, Manfred Mann. "Tune in now for a new generation," promised Baby, though quite what that means is beyond us. "Guaranteed to be the new sensation" – oh yeah, according to whom? "Who says? Spice Girls/ 12345." Brilliant. "Take it from us," they added, "It's Girl Power/ Take it from us/ It's the power of 5." It's almost as if this song was designed to provide insubstantial soundbites. "Wicked shows for you to see... Tunes and sport and movies free... All the TV you've ever wanted/ 12345."

And has it lived up to that promise? Of course not. Unless all the TV you've ever wanted is Aussie soaps, second-tier European football, films that are largely past their sell-by and The Gadget Show. OK, that's just trampling over a decade-and-a-half of creative output for the sake of another soundbite – and it's unfair, because actually Channel 5 has been an important addition to the small screen.

For, while many missed the early years because the channel's signal wasn't good enough to reach half the country, it was at the forefront of bringing us quality US drama imports, which it continues to do with its impressive 5USA digital spin-off, and ushered in the era-defining decision to sit newsreaders in front of their desks.

So what does 5 stand for these days? Well, now that it's bought Big Brother just as it settles into a state of necrosis, the broadcaster seems to be obsessed with its new owner Richard Desmond's OK! infatuation with D-list celebrity. It's All About Amy, Tamara Ecclestone: Billion $$ Girl, the ill-fated OK! TV. Think we'll stick with the American imports, if it's all the same...