Pink, paranormal and proud

Living TV's attention-grabbing formula is pulling in viewers. But this is just the start, the channel's boss tells Ian Burrell

Living TV likes to refer to itself as "Britain's Sixth Channel", which is not yet a truism but could become one if it continues to enjoy its current extraordinary growth. Lesbianism, high camp, cosmetic surgery, spooky stories of the supernatural and now Cilla Black are the subjects that define the channel. It is a cleverly thought-out mix that appeals in equal measure to open-minded young women and gay men, and has seen Living's commercial audience grow by 60 per cent in the last 12 months.

Living TV likes to refer to itself as "Britain's Sixth Channel", which is not yet a truism but could become one if it continues to enjoy its current extraordinary growth. Lesbianism, high camp, cosmetic surgery, spooky stories of the supernatural and now Cilla Black are the subjects that define the channel. It is a cleverly thought-out mix that appeals in equal measure to open-minded young women and gay men, and has seen Living's commercial audience grow by 60 per cent in the last 12 months.

Outside of the five terrestrial giants, Living (not so long ago the 17th most-watched channel) is the fastest-growing station, frequently beaten only by Sky One and ITV2 in the ratings, and often overtaking better-known rivals such as E4 and UK Gold.

The success is something that the rest of the television industry is watching closely. With 53 per cent of British households now having moved on from terrestrial TV to take up a selection of up to 200 more channels, broadcasters know that having a clear identity in such a crowded market place is absolutely key.

Richard Woolfe, Living's director of programmes, says: "It's important people know what they are going to get with us because we don't get listed properly. People need to know what our environment is all about, that if they come to Living TV, they are going to get the best pink programming, the best paranormal and the best American drama series."

Woolfe, 42, took over the channel (which is part of the Flextech television family that also includes the channels Bravo, FTN, Challenge and Trouble) three years ago. Then it had a disparaging reputation as the "Jerry Springer channel" because it brought Jerry to the UK and had an apparent love for talkshow bust-ups. "I'm not interested in doing 'son of' versions of shows that are already out there. What I'm trying to do is create a unique Living TV flavour," he says.

One of Woolfe's first big plays followed his realisation that "every single women's magazine" appeared to feature stories of the paranormal. "At one end you had horoscopes and at the other you had stories like 'I married an alien' or 'My psychic premonition saved my daughter from disaster'. I realised there was nothing like that on TV and it struck me as rather strange."

Other broadcasters, he believes, had shunned the subject because of the lack of "conclusive proof". But that problem didn't dissuade Woolfe from scheduling shows such as I'm Famous & Frightened and Most Haunted, which has turned the Scouse spirit medium Derek Acorah into a cult figure. Acorah (real surname Johnson), a former Liverpool FC reserve, has captivated audiences by tramping around castles and stately homes, recounting their grisly secrets.

When Living staged a Most Haunted Live event in Derby recently, the free tickets were being traded on eBay for £350, and a discarded call sheet for the show was offered for £60.

Living has also become the home of pink programming, although Woolfe acknowledges that the likes of Larry Grayson and John Inman have been at the heart of British entertainment television for years.

"Gays on TV are not a new phenomenon but I wanted to bring out the notion of a girl's gay best friend. That had never been done before," he says. The ideal vehicle for this ploy was Will & Grace, which premieres on Living and is about to start its seventh series this autumn.

"Will is Grace's gay best friend, and our audience was so comfortable with that it seemed absolutely right that we should extend that to other areas of programming," says Woolfe, who went on to commission the American gay makeover show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. He then ordered a British version of the same format, which has become the first American format to be repackaged in Britain and sold back to the US.

Living is locked in battle with channel Five ( Cosmetic Surgery Live), Sky One and Channel 4 (both Nip/Tuck) to become the bastion of plastic-surgery television. Woolfe's latest commission is the UK version of the radical Extreme Makeover, where a team of plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, hair and make-up artists, stylists and personal trainers are used to transform the lives of the guinea-pig volunteers. Another new show, The Swan, "takes plastic surgery one step further and turns it into a competition", says Woolfe of the American programme, which sees women having implants and liposuction as they compete to win a place in a beauty pageant (the loser is "sent packing").

But the real attention-grabber, Living hopes, is The L Word, the sapphic version of Sex and the City, which began its run this month starring Mia Kirshner from 24 and Jennifer Beals from Flashdance.

"It's controversial because it's about lesbians but it's really great drama," says Woolfe. "It moves our peak programming on because it tackles an area sensitively and emotionally that hasn't really been done properly on TV." Woolfe, who began his television career as a researcher on BBC's That's Life, can kick on into new territories and "take risks" partly because "we are a small team, I don't have 87 zillion bosses that I have to get to sign off these shows".

His latest move has been to bring Cilla Black on to the screens after an 18-month absence. A Christmas special followed by a series of Cilla projects next year are designed to link the channel to a presenter who audiences still associate with much bigger broadcasters. Woolfe says: "Although we recognise that we are a cable and satellite channel, we think like a terrestrial channel. If we are going to achieve our ambition that is the way we will succeed."

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
Super BowlAfter Katy Perry madness it's back to The Independent's live coverage of Super Bowl 49!
News
See what Twitter had to say about the first half of the Super Bowl
News
people
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Project Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This established Digital Agency based in East ...

Day In a Page

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium - they breathe better air, and eat better food, when they're not making beans on toast for their kids

The super-rich now live in their own Elysium

They breathe better air, eat better food, take better medicine
A generation of dropouts failed by colleges

Dropout generation failed by colleges

£800m a year wasted on students who quit courses before they graduate
Entering civilian life 'can be like going into the jungle' for returning soldiers

Homeless Veterans appeal

Entering civilian life can be like going into the jungle
Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Sam Taylor-Johnson: Woman on top

Fifty Shades of Grey director on bringing the hit to the screen
Shazam! Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

Shazam: Story of the $1bn 'what's that song?' app

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch