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.

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film Ridley Scott reveals truth behind casting decisions of Exodus
News
people
Sport
footballArsenal 2 Borussia Dortmund 0: And they can still top the group
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
An unseen image of Kurt Cobain at home featured in the film 'Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck'
filmThe singers widow and former bandmates have approved project
News
Andy Murray with his girlfriend of nine years, Kim Sears who he has got engaged to
peopleWimbledon champion announces engagement to girlfriend Kim Sears
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tv
Arts and Entertainment
George Mpanga has been shortlisted for the Critics’ Choice prize
music
News
Albert Camus (left) and Jean-Paul Sartre fell out in 1952 and did not speak again before Camus’s death
people
Arts and Entertainment
Roisin, James and Sanjay in the boardroom
tvReview: This week's failing project manager had to go
News
Ed Miliband visiting the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. The Labour leader has spoken more openly of his heritage recently
newsAttacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But are the barbs more sinister?
Arts and Entertainment
'Felfie' (2014) by Alison Jackson
photographyNew exhibition shows how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
News
i100
Life and Style
Fright night: the board game dates back to at least 1890
life
Environment
The vaquita is being killed by fishermen trying to catch the totoaba fish, which is prized in China
environmentJust 97 of the 'world's cutest' sea mammals remain
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

Ashdown Group: Data Warehouse & Business Intelligence Co-ordinator

£35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Required skills include SQL querying, SSRS, u...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Graduate Consultant - Sales Recruitment - £35k ote

£18000 - £25000 per annum + £35k ote: h2 Recruit Ltd: Looking for your first s...

Recruitment Genius: Advertising Media Sales - Print, Online & Mobile

£19000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This publishing house has been ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Award winning Peterborough base...

Day In a Page

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit
Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

Can SkySaga capture the Minecraft magic?

It's no surprise that the building game born in Sweden in 2009 and now played by millions, has imitators keen to construct their own mega money-spinner
The King's School is way ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology

Staying connected: The King's School

The school in Cambridgeshire is ahead of the pack when it comes to using the latest classroom technology. Richard Garner discovers how teachers and pupils stay connected
Christmas 2014: 23 best women's perfumes

Festively fragrant: the best women's perfumes

Give a loved one a luxe fragrance this year or treat yourself to a sensual pick-me-up
Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition

Arsenal vs Borussia Dortmund

The Ox celebrates century with trademark display of speed and intuition
Billy Joe Saunders vs Chris Eubank Jnr: When two worlds collide

When two worlds collide

Traveller Billy Joe Saunders did not have a pampered public-school upbringing - unlike Saturday’s opponent Chris Eubank Jnr
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?