Her channel's definitely not for Brenda in Leicester

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The Independent Online
"UK Living is a challenging political concept," says its programme director, Lis Howell. "Young women think `I don't need it'; older women `I don't want it' - but we live in a non-equal society and much TV patronises women. UK Living might have i ts faults, but it's not patronising."

Britain's first satellite TV channel for women, UK Living, was launched in September 1993. It abandoned power suits, pillar-box-red dresses and stereotyped notions of women's interests in favour of relationships, health issues, cookery, home-making and soap operas.

Since last January it has more than doubled its audience; more than 700,000 people tune in each week, giving the channel just under 1 per cent viewing share of the UK satellite TV audience - twice that of the Family Channel and on a par with the music channel VH-1. And it has achieved this on a shoestring budget.

Although part-backed by the BBC and Thames Television - which are also behind sister channel UK Gold - UK Living is by necessity a lean operation. Ms Howell is responsible for a full-time production staff of four, with a further 20 based at Thames.

Even so, she places an emphasis on in-house production and makes two and a half hours of programming a day, with a further hour and a half commissioned outside. Central to its daytime schedule is Living Magazine, a daily show made for a fraction of the estimated £20,000 an hour budget enjoyed by ITV's This Morning.

"We learnt fast the importance of scheduling as an alternative," Ms Howell says. Living Magazine was initially broadcast in the morning but when moved to afternoons regularly outperformed other channels in satellite homes. Other popular shows include Infatuation UK, New Mr & Mrs and The Agony Hour. Mini-series and TV movies dominate evenings.

Developments for the new year include a rerun of Brookside, starting with the first episode, three nights a week. The deal, struck last month, marked the first time Channel 4 had resold its own programming to UK cable or satellite channels.

Traditionally, 5.30pm to 8pm is the weakest part of the schedule, Ms Howell says. She hopes Brookside will redress this when it launches on 13 February at 6.30pm. "We desperately needed a good British soap," she says. "Brookside is regional, feisty and with strong women characters."

UK Living is neither "stupid"or "contrived", she says. "It is quite downmarket, but then we all have our downmarket moments." She doubts there is any such thing as a "typical UK Living viewer" although she believes the nearest profile would be a 32-year-old woman working part-time and living outside London.

"You can't make it for Brenda in Leicester," she adds. "Ultimately, you have to make it for `me'."