Judgement day for the brave news face of Channel Five

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The Independent Online
Kirsty Young, the youthful Scotswoman catapulted into anchoring Channel 5 News, showed she is no dumb blonde last night when she walked and talked her way round the programme's multi-coloured newsroom and managed to sit still for long enough to conduct a substantial set piece interview with Labour leader Tony Blair.

But the jury must still be out on whether her show's brave new format is going to break the mould of current affairs in this country or become the butt of cruel satire.

Its determination to appeal to young people turned off by conventional politicians and traditional television news programmes was signalled straight away by the decision to put the launch of green protester Swampy's Never Mind the Ballots Party higher up the running order than the man most likely to be Prime Minister after 1 May.

Mr Blair, who came on after the commercial break, was interviewed leaning against a desk with Ms Young, rather than seated behind it. The only time he appeared uncomfortable was when asked whether he thought his wife, Cherie, wouldn't make a better prime minister than him. "It's a very good try, Kirsty, but she's happy doing what she's doing," he curtly replied.

The Blair interview was a predictable ploy to ensure that the first full edition of Channel 5's flagship news programme generated some headlines of its own. But Britain's last free-to-air television network will have to work hard on the publicity front if it is to weave itself into the fabric of British life.

Only one of its first-night offerings, a curtain-raising show featuring a specially commissioned song by the Spice Girls, attracted more than 2 million viewers on Sunday night, according to unofficial overnight figures which emerged yesterday. The opening episode of its five-night-a-week soap Family Affairs was watched by 1.5 million people, less than a tenth of the number which tunes into EastEnders or Coronation Street. The same number bothered to watch Beyond Fear, about the Stephanie Slater kidnapping.

Even fewer - around 1 million, according to the early estimates - tuned into the debut edition of The Jack Docherty Show, which starred the Spice Girls (again) and ageing hearthrob Roger Moore. Earlier in the evening, the opening episode of a medical spoof, Hospital!, also drew around 1 million.

None the less, Channel 5 executives were as determinedly upbeat as their station's misery-free soap, claiming victory in the ratings war over their closest rivals, Channel 4.

Pointing out that its prime-time share of total audience was 5.8 per cent, compared with 4.7 per cent for Channel 4, a spokeswoman for the station said: "We are very happy with the figures, especially as it was such a beautiful sunny bank holiday. It is a very good result considering we are aiming for a 5-per-cent overall share by the end of the year."

The figures are broadly in line with the modest forecasts Channel 5 wisely issued on the eve of its first transmission. Normally, new networks can count on a high curiosity factor playing in their favour, but launching on Easter Sunday was always going to be a disadvantage.

Rob Brown

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