The man who wants to keep it real

Under Dan Chambers, Five is going highbrow. And that includes 'The Farm', he tells Ciar Byrne

What do the zoologist Richard Dawkins, the poet Andrew Motion, the art critic Brian Sewell, and the rapper Vanilla Ice all have in common? Answer: they all appear on Five, a television channel once derided for relying on sex, sport and C-list movies, but that is now throwing up surprises in the form of science, history and arts documentaries.

Under Dan Chambers, who, at 36, is the youngest controller of any of the five main terrestrial channels, Five has ventured into genres traditionally covered by BBC 2 and Channel 4. But it is a mark of Five's dual personality that it is also the channel where you will find less mentally taxing offerings such as the new reality-TV experiment The Farm, shows such as Cosmetic Surgery Live and, newly poached from ITV, Trisha Goddard - Britain's answer to Jerry Springer.

The Farm is intended to be the highlight of Chambers' autumn schedule, and is his second bid for a reality-TV hit, following the flop earlier this year of Back To Reality, in which contestants from other reality-TV shows were confined to a house. This time, Five has transported nine Z-list celebrities to a farm in Wiltshire, where they have to carry out tasks such as mucking out pigs, milking cows and dagging sheep.

In the first of three weeks, viewing figures for the series (masterminded by Channel 4's former "Mr Property", Ben Frow, poached by Chambers to come up with lifestyle hits) have ranged between 1.2 million and 1.4 million, only slightly more respectable than Back To Reality's disappointing 1 million. But Chambers insists that the show is attracting double the usual number of key 16-34-year-old viewers.

Ever the optimist, he hopes that even John Humphrys, who proclaimed his disdain for reality TV at the Edinburgh International Television Festival, will like the show. "I had dinner with Humphrys, and he wasn't condemning all reality TV. I hope that he will see that The Farm is entertaining and that you learn something, that it has a valuable role."

The Today presenter is more likely to be impressed by initiatives such as the Fivearts Cities, which brings film and theatre to some of the poorest areas of Liverpool, and has spawned a new poem from Roger McGough. Five is also going to stage debates on the latest issues in science, in partnership with the Royal Institution.

Chambers' talent for mixing the lowbrow with more intelligent programming - including science shows featuring Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, a forthcoming poem from Andrew Motion to mark the 60th anniversary of VE Day, and Brian Sewell tracing the history of the Rolls-Royce - stems from his background as a science commissioning editor at Channel 4 and, before that, as a documentary-maker. But he has no intention of producing a relentlessly highbrow diet. "If you look back at the channel, three years ago it was still tits-and-arse and very tabloid. Then the documentaries were massively scaled up. If I have a criticism, it's that it lost its joie de vivre. I want to bring back some of the mischief and controversy."

Comedy is one area in which Chambers is investing heavily. He recently paid around £500,000 an episode for the Friends spin-off Joey, a gamble that appears to have paid off as the sitcom's run has just been extended in the US, where it is this autumn's hit. Five has also acquired the rights to two other American imports, Two and a Half Men, starring Charlie Sheen, and Crazy For You, about a quirky New York couple. To complete the package, Chambers, who hopes to establish a comedy zone by the end of next year, has poached Graham Smith from the BBC to develop home-grown comedy in partnership with the Paramount Comedy Channel.

The other big change at Five is the news, which, from January, will be produced by Sky News, who won the contract from ITN. Jobs are at risk as a result, leading the NUJ to accuse Five of dumping a high-quality news service in return for a cheap contract. "It wasn't about money, it was about quality of service," insists Chambers. "And about having fresh blood and enthusiasm."

In the meantime, Five's fortunes will be riding on the pigs, the cows and the sheep.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before