New ITV digital channel targets male viewers with 'Kojak' remake

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The Independent Online

ITV is pinning its hopes on a remake of the cult 1970s television show Kojak to woo elusive male viewers to a new digital channel. Research conducted by the broadcaster has shown that younger men are no longer tuning in to its mainstream terrestrial channel ITV1.

So on 1 November, ITV is launching a new channel, available free-to-air on all digital platforms, designed to appeal to men aged 25 to 44. Men in this age group are much sought after by advertisers, but are also the hardest to reach, as they are traditionally light television viewers.

The answer, ITV has decided, is US imports. American drama, movies and talk shows will dominate the new channel, ITV4. Sport will also feature heavily, including Champions' League and World Cup football, boxing and the Tour de France.

One of the highlights will be a new version of the US cop show Kojak. In the series, which has already aired in the US, Ving Rhames, who starred in Pulp Fiction and Mission: Impossible, reprises the role of the lollipop-sucking New York detective Lieutenant Theo Kojak, made famous by Telly Savalas.

Stephen Arnell, the ITV4 channel editor, insisted that fans of the original series would not be disappointed. "It's far more gritty than the original series. It's not a retread, it's a re-imagining. In the States, it's already been a sizeable hit and has been recommissioned for a second series," he said.

Despite the lack of live programming, ITV4 will be given a topical feel by The Late Show with David Letterman, which it will broadcast nightly the day after it goes out in the US. The Larry Sanders Show, a comedy talk programme, is another acquisition.

Films on the channel will include Full Metal Jacket, Carlito's Way and The People vs Larry Flynt as well as the feature-length documentaries, Outfoxed and The Hunting of the President.

Mr Arnell insisted that ITV4 would be closer in style to the upmarket men's magazines Arena and GQ than downmarket lads' mags Zoo and Nuts. "There's a male skew. The programming will be hard-hitting, but we're not going to go along the route of soft porn. It's something you can watch with your partner," he said.

Nigel Pickard, ITV's director of programmes, said: "There's an important segment of the population for whom ITV is less relevant than others. ITV4 is for men who are discerning about their television, men who know their sport and men who know their movies."

The channel will join a digital portfolio including ITV2, which recently overtook Sky One as the UK's most-watched digital channel, and the "golden oldies" channel ITV3. A dedicated children's channel is also in the offing.