The Diary

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SUNDAY NIGHT and, like 25 million other viewers, I'm sitting in front of the television. But this is not your usual, end-of-the-week flop in front of the box. Tonight is the launch of Channel 4's independent cinema channel, FilmFour, and, with a small but growing handful of technological pioneers around the country, I'm tuned in via digital satellite.

This may seem a rather low-key way to be celebrating the launch of the first new channel in C4's 16-year history, but the time for partying was last night. Fifteen hundred guests braved the rain to join our celebrations in a dressed-up bus garage.

We greeted them with C4's speciality shock tactics: lashings of 1950s porn and all but naked dancers plus Nick Broomfield's S&M documentary Fetishes projected 10 times normal size on to a partition wall. Unfortunately, no one seemed to notice. Apparently the party attracted a good number of "faces" from the worlds of film and TV along with the professional liggers. I'll have to take their word for it - the place was so packed I spent most of the night staring at necks, not faces.

Still, the squeeze and the scale of the celebration are measures of the importance C4 attaches to this launch. Like it or not, multi-channel television is the future, and established broadcasters must embrace it or face a slow but inevitable decline into irrelevance. C4 believes it is giving viewers something new for their subscription: a channel playing British, US and foreign-language films that you won't see at the Hollywood-dominated multiplexes.

OH DEAR. Monday morning and I'm flicking through my diary hoping to quash the impression that all I do is attend meetings and watch television. Unfortunately, the best the diary can offer is meetings. All meeting- ed out by the evening, I go home and turn on the television. What else is a television executive supposed to do? It's fashionable in this business to swear you never watch it, because watching television is perceived to be a low-brow activity. Can you imagine theatre workers, musicians or writers boasting that they never go to plays or concerts, attend the opera or read a book or newspaper?

As I flick through the channels using the electronic programme guide it's reassuring to see that the terrestrial stations are the first to appear. But something is not right. I surf past BBC1 (channel 101) and BBC2 (102) and then straight to C4 (104). At 103 there's a blank, with ITV nowhere to be found. There is a self-defeating logic in ITV withholding itself from digital satellite, a decision that makes it seem inward-looking and short-sighted. What a neat piece of positioning. Rather like continuing to produce silent movies after the invention of the talkies.

DIGITAL OR no digital, some things about British television don't change, such as BBC costume drama. Andrew Davies's adaptation of Vanity Fair promises to be one of the best pieces of television this year. Marc Munden's direction is superb and invites you to do what all good television does: gain a fresh perspective on the familiar. There have been many good TV costume dramas, but few that really invite you to rethink your attitude to a classic text.

Yet to read the newspapers on Tuesday morning after the overnight ratings have come in - and ITV has launched a successful spoiler campaign - Vanity Fair is a pounds 6m flop. How can attracting 7 million viewers to Thackeray be characterised a flop? It's 3.5 million more than bought the Sun on Tuesday, albeit 2 million fewer than watched Taggart. The press is on an anti-BBC roll, from cricket to cocaine. But, as press watchers will remember, it was only a couple of years ago that the Daily Mail was conducting a vicious campaign against my predecessor, Michael Grade, labelling him Britain's pornographer-in-chief.

Still the BBC's troubles allow me to point out to journalists at our winter programme launch that our presenters - including the hilarious Ali Gee from the 11 O'Clock Show - are contractually obliged to take cocaine at least once a day.

WEDNESDAY NIGHT and time for the leaving party of C4's documentaries head, Peter Moore. Peter is a highly talented and idiosyncratic editor who has commissioned some of the channel's best documentaries, including The Club and Clive Gordon's extraordinary film about Chechnya, The Betrayed.

He's also something of a Peter Pan figure. He was photographed on his first day at C4 in 1989 and has successfully managed to avoid being photographed ever since, thus ensuring he has remained for ever 40 years old.

Arriving one day at Amsterdam airport, a suspicious customs officer examined his passport and suggested to Peter that something was amiss.

It turned out that in his quest for everlasting youth, Peter had been using a photograph of his 13-year-old stepson, Oscar.

Michael Jackson is the head of Channel 4.

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