The show of shows

It's live, it's wired, and it's all about the box. Rob Brown on Channel 4's programme for those who love television
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The Independent Online
Surely it can't just be a coincidence. Media studies graduate- turned-TV mogul Michael Jackson becomes chief executive of Channel 4 and, within weeks, that station is serving up a dream show for the media literate - a programme which will celebrate, as well as criticise, what's on the box.

NightWatch, which starts a six-week trial run tomorrow, will take the form of a late-night phone-in. Issues raised by the preceding week's most talked-about shows (eg, euthanasia on Brookside) will be debated by pundits in the studio and whoever feels moved to call up. There will also be a forum on the Internet so the digerati, at least, can continue the debate for days afterwards.

The programme will be presented by Pat Kane, who did film and TV studies at Glasgow University before raising a brief Hue & Cry in the pop world and then building a lucrative freelance career in broadcasting and the press by, in his words, "popularising the intellectual and intellectualising the popular".

Kane has been a staunch defender of cultural studies as an academic discipline and is delighted to be hosting a forum which should allow participants to express complex feelings about television.

"The underlying philosophy behind this programme is that you can love television without being a couch potato," he says. "You can be a couch courgette!"

Sensing that this vegetable analogy might require a little elaboration, Kane explains: "There is a lot of sophisticated discussion of sport and some areas of popular culture, such as music and movies. But television doesn't get the same treatment. You can air a complaint on Right to Reply but you're never give the chance to describe Brookside as a beautiful aesthetic experience, as good as any 19th century novel.

"All we get is tabloid veneration or high- brow disdain. Why shouldn't we be allowed on TV to wax enthusiastic or nostalgic about our favourite TV moments and memories?"

Kane has been trained to deconstruct Richard and Judy, but the phone- in element will, he acknowledges, make NightWatch "not entirely different from This Morning."

Each hour-long programme will cover three topics. Tomorrow night's opening episode will have an item on Teletubbies, critically exploring why the latest infants' craze has also proved a hit with teenage clubbers.

Never underestimate the infantilising impact of Ecstasy-style drugs, many of us would respond. Kane believes there may be a more complex explanation, which he will present tomorrow.

He also believes that many viewers are becoming more discriminating as the digital revolution expands choice. "There is a scaling- up rather than a dumbing-down," he declares optimistically.

He also believes that the impact of media studies, now an established discipline both at higher education level and on the school curriculum, is filtering through to wider society. Kane almost became a media studies teacher himself: he was all set to enroll in teacher-training at the University of London's Institute of Education when his musical career suddenly took off.

A good template for the programme, he believes, is The Box magazine, which made its debut on the newsstands in April. "It may well catch a wave because it treats TV like FourFourTwo treats football and MoJo treats music."

Kane does not see the Web forum as just a trendy adjunct to the programme. "There is an immense amount of enthusiasm for television on the Internet and I am a great advocate of empowering viewers through interactive media."

Who knows, if he gets really carried away, Pat Kane may even round off the series by giving an on-camera rendition of his variation on the theme tune to Postman Pat. It is a delightful self-mocking little number entitled "Postmodern Pat"n

NightWatch starts on Channel 4 tomorrow night at 12.05am.