Channel 4 chief admits using sex to lift ratings and promises £449m to boost original drama

The head of Channel 4 Television admitted yesterday the broadcaster had been guilty of a "cynical" reliance on sex to boost ratings.

Mark Thompson said Channel 4 Television had needed to clean up its act after straying from the remit it was given at its inception 21 years ago. The Channel 4 chief executive cited as evidence the broadcasting of shows such as Temptation Island, in which couples were lured into infidelity. Speaking as the network unveiled its winter schedule, he said: "A little bit in the past, Channel 4 has been guilty of slightly cynical choices, like buying Temptation Island from Sky. That's not what Channel 4 was put on earth to do."

Describing how he wanted to see less gratuitously sexual programmes, Mr Thompson also criticised the reality show Big Brother, which he said had "lost its magic" in the most recent series.

The comments follow criticism that Channel 4 has copied Channel 5 in going downmarket in search of viewers, while the younger station has conversely become more high-brow.

In an apparent response to criticism of its "dumbing down", the network announced a new schedule of dramas on subjects ranging from terrorist atrocities to the social lives of young Yorkshire nurses, as it attempted to restore its reputation for challenging and original programming.

Mr Thompson has already axed the under-performing breakfast show RI:SE, and said yesterday that dropping the long-running soap Brookside (which ends this week after 21 years) had "allowed us real room to experiment".

Mr Thompson said he hoped Channel 4 Television would soon be in a position to show original drama "pretty much every week of the year" and said the station's board had been asked to increase its programme budget to £449m, its highest level.

Among the programmes unveiled yesterday was Omagh, a feature-length drama based on Northern Ireland's biggest terrorist atrocity in 1998.

Channel 4 Television is also making Hamburg Cell, a drama about the German-based conspirators in the 11 September 2001 attacks.

The drama programming also includes the acquisition Angels in America, a six-hour epic about the spread of Aids in the 1980s, starring Emma Thompson and Al Pacino. No Angels, meanwhile, is a racy portrayal of the social and working lives of four nurses who share a house in Leeds.

In the arts and history strand, Channel 4 Television has built on the success of the reality show The Edwardian Country House by making The Regency House Party, in which participants have been encouraged to adopt the social protocols described in the novels of Jane Austen and the like.

Among Channel 4 Television's new factual programmes is the documentary Gay Parents To Be, and the success of last year's screening of The Haj, showing the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, has led to a new project to film the Shia Muslim festival of Muharram, which has been suppressed for 30 years by Saddam Hussein. Bob Geldof to has also been commissioned to make and present a two-part series on the deteriorating state of marriage in Britain.

Although the station has dropped Brookside, it is to extend the soap Hollyoaks to five nights a week andwill introduce The Simpsons, a guaranteed ratings success.

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