Channel 5 to banish soft porn in favour of serious documentaries

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The Independent Online

Channel 5, much derided for its diet of cheap game shows and soft porn, is seeking to reinvent itself as the home of serious documentaries and big-budget movie premieres.

In a surprise change of direction, the station has unveiled ambitious plans to challenge the BBC and Channel 4 for the mantle of chief public service broadcaster.

Branding his rivals "samey" and "ratings-obsessed", the new director of programmes Kevin Lygo has pledged to clear prime time space for a set of series focusing on the arts and world religions. And in a move that should banish the channel's reputation for relying on bargain basement straight-to-video films to fill its nightly movie slot, he has secured the terrestrial television premieres of Oscar-winning blockbusters The Matrix, Gladiator and Erin Brockovich.

Mr Lygo said his aim was to prove to prove to the public that Channel 5 was "better than you think" – and turn it into a station that "matters" to people.

"There are advantages to being the new kid on the block and the smallest player in town," he said. "The TV landscape at the moment is a bit like British politics. There's Labour in the middle ground, parking its vast truck in the middle of the road and there's no real way round it, apart from the extreme left or right, which no one wants.

"What Channel 5 has the opportunity to do is try to be different when all the others are atrophying. They're all ratings-obsessed, but because our expectations are different, we can do things a different way."

Mr Lygo said there were no plans to scrap the channel's traditional Thursday "saucy night", but future programmes might cast a more ironic eye over the sex industry in the manner of Channel 4's Eurotrash, rather than relying on "soft porn from the back streets of Israel".

In a sign of clear differences with his predecessor, the station's chief executive, Dawn Airey, he said he believed the channel's reputation had been seriously "damaged" by some of its earlier output.

Singling out notorious one-off game show Naked Jungle, in which the presenter Keith Chegwin and the contestants appeared in the nude, he said: "Would I do it now? No. That's not the way of the future."

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