Channel 4 has last word by axing cult show

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The Independent Online
RHYS WILLIAMS

Media Correspondent

Ending one of the most agonisingly protracted deaths since Beth passed away with consumption in Little Women, Channel 4 yesterday finally drew a veil on The Word after 104 episodes.

The station, which has loyally stood by the programme during periods of intense regulatory opprobrium, stressed that the decision not to commission a sixth series was based on "audience fatigue" and nothing to do with the recent controversy it excited.

David Stevenson, Channel 4's youth commissioning editor, said: "We are committed to constant innovation, and that should be truer of our youth programming than anywhere else.

"After five years, The Word has earned its place in TV history as the longest running youth show since The Tube, and one of the longest-lived anywhere in British television."

"But it's time to move on, and with new programmes in development, we will continue to stay true to our young audience," Mr Stevenson added.

A spokeswoman for the programme maker, Planet 24, said that it was disappointed but not surprised by Channel 4's decision to drop the show.

She said: "It took guts to broadcast The Word - and Channel 4 did it for five years.

"People who never saw it attacked it, but those who did see it will remember it for what it was - essential viewing for a generation."

The Word has consistently warranted its reputation for vibrant, innovative and direct television. For the honour of appearing live on television, people have eaten worms, dunked their heads in a vat of sheep's intestines, bathed in horse manure and French-kissed an old woman.

The series played a key part in earning Michael Grade, Channel 4's chief executive, the honour of being named "Britain's pornographer-in-chief" by Paul Johnson, the Daily Mail's deeply illiberal columnist.

But it also raised the hackles of television watchdogs such as the Independent Television Commission and Broadcasting Standards Council, both of whose regulatory interventions Mr Grade has described as "out of touch".

Last month, The Word earned Channel 4 a formal warning from the ITC for a series of stunts which included a man in a kilt called "Mr Powertool" pulling a girl in a chair with a rope attached to his penis.

The commission also objected to a Santa Claus vomiting over a victim and someone else having an elderly man's colostomy bag emptied over him.

In December 1993, Channel 4 was forced to broadcast an apology when the American actor Alexis Arquette departed from what occasionally passed for a script and told jokes about incest.

The station's executives, for the most part, stuck by the programme. However, last March Sir Michael Bishop, chairman of Channel 4, decided it went too far when it hatched plans to feature Peter Kerry, the schoolboy who ran away to Malaysia on his father's credit card, on holiday in New York. The item was dropped, although the boy was still sent.

Stunts were one part of its infamy, its presenters' reputation for on-screen ineptitude the other. Terry Christian became known alternately as the "epitome of broadcasting inarticulacy" and the "most irritating man on television".

But compared with his sidekick, Amanda de Cadanet, Christian was a real professional. Latterly, however, he settled into something approaching a stride, assisted by the more than able Katie Puckrick and Dani Behr.

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