Is this a magic formula to attract young people back to television?

E4's hit teen shows include Skins and Misfits but it's still criticised for making 'vacuous pap'. The controller Angela Jain argues her case to Ian Burrell

Angela Jain is frank enough to admit that she doesn't read newspapers much these days. Just as well. The same day we meet, the Daily Telegraph describes the E4 network that she has run for the past two and a half years as "a channel that chiefly churns out vacuous pap for the young and empty-headed".

That's not what she needs when she's only days away from giving birth, but she explains that she won't be introducing any serious-minded content to the channel anytime soon. If you want a commission from Jain, you will have to make her laugh. "Anyone who knows me knows that the first question I say is: 'Is it funny?' That's really, really important to me," she says. "Everything must have an underlying wit."

Never mind the vacuous pap, this is the channel that brought us Skins, the coolest and most successful online teen drama of recent years, the very funny suburban schoolboy comedy The Inbetweeners, and now Misfits, which blew away even that same Telegraph critic, who gushed that it "blazed into the screen with such a terrific sense of humour, self-confidence and brio."

When it gets it right, E4 has a wit and credibility that sets it apart from its chief rivals in the battle for the young audience, BBC Three and ITV2. Jain says her role is not a didactic one. "I run an entertainment channel for young people. Even if those young people have got responsibilities, I want them to leave them at the door when they watch E4," she says. "I want them to be properly entertained, I don't want to be judgmental and I don't want to preach to them. I just want to put stuff out there and they can decide what they think of it."

It's not just young people. The racy Skins, with its good-looking cast and a liberal attitude to sex and drugs, attracts plenty of older viewers too. So does The Inbetweeners, which follows a group of hapless teenage boys in their attempts to get laid (and has just been nominated in two categories in The Broadcast Awards). The show was recommended to me by Richard Curtis, 51, the co-creator of Blackadder, who watches it with his children.

When it's put to Jain that some of her programmes are watched by an older audience as well, she at first tries to deny it. "No-oooh, no they don't," she says. "I think our audience is made up of 60 per cent 'youngs' – some shows, like Inbetweeners, go as high as 70%. So that's not true at all. Regardless, the 16-34s is measured and we are the market leader, so if we scoop up some extra people I don't mind. I'm sure some under 16s watch our programmes and they shouldn't be watching them – but I'm not their parents."

She also rails against the view expressed on some websites that the third and most recent series of Skins, in which the programme was radically altered by the writer Bryan Elsley, was not as good as the opening two series. "Why would they say that? Boring farts! I think that's totally unfair," she complains. "Changing the cast was a bold move and requires courage. When you take risks some people will not like what you do [but] all I know is that series three was the most watched series, so some people did love it."

A fourth series starts early in the new year although, as with any "cool" programme, early adopters will go elsewhere when it becomes too popular. "There's an inherent snobbery about moving on, isn't there?" asks Jain. The Inbetweeners, meanwhile, is still benefiting from word of mouth. While less than 500,000 watched the start of series one, more than 1.2 million tuned in for the opener of the second series. Writers Iain Morris and Damon Beesley are writing series three.

E4 is still a minority channel, though its audience share of 4.55 per cent is up 11 per cent year-on-year and is greater than that of BBC Three and ITV2, which both have more money to spend. And Jain has high hopes for Misfits, a new high-concept drama with a quality script written by Howard Overman, which has drawn comparison with the American show Heroes – but on a lower budget and with a British sense of humour.

The show features a group of young people on community service orders who are shaken from their boredom by the discovery that they have supernatural powers. In spite of the outlandish theme, Jain says the characters have "an authenticity, a believability which I think is important".

It is also more grittily urban than the rest of E4's output. "We looked and developed quite a lot of scripts before we came upon Misfits, but we could see something in it and it is coming to air in less than a year," she says.

Ricky Gervais is also now part of the E4 team, script-editing PhoneShop, a new comedy that debuted on Channel 4's Comedy Showcase last month featuring the strange subculture that exists among self-confident youths who sell us our tools of mobile communication.

"Everyone's got a mobile phone and has had some encounter in a phone shop. It's also about those difficult dead-end jobs everyone has had at least once in their lives," says Jain, pictured right. She was so impressed with the pilot for PhoneShop, created by Phil Bowker of Talkback Thames, that she has commissioned a six-part series for next year. And then there's Seth MacFarlane, the creator of the hit US animation Family Guy, who will bring its spin-off, The Cleveland Show, to the channel next year.

By the time Jain comes back from her maternity leave she is hoping there will be a bit more cash washing around Channel 4's Horseferry Road headquarters following the demise of Big Brother. That will allow her to widen the E4 offering beyond comedy and drama, she says. "With the freeing-up of some money in 2011 it will be nice to broaden that out a bit, with more live events, which feel like a luxury when money is tight."

But don't expect anything too educational. "I wouldn't go there," she says. "I'm running a purely commercial channel for profit. I interpret my public service requirement as breaking through new talent. We give so much new talent their break on and off screen and I'm really proud of that."

As she temporarily hands over the reins of the channel to Paul Mortimer and Kevin Lygo, Jain argues there is "a common thread through all E4 commissions" and that even the American buy-ins, such as Glee, which is set in a US high school, have a realism and dry humour that British teens relate to.

"Yes, the characters of Skins are aspirational, but equally they don't take themselves too seriously and I think that's the Britishness about all our shows," she says. "I don't want anyone, or anything, to be taken too seriously."

people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Boris Johnson may be manoeuvring to succeed David Cameron
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionPart of 'best-selling' Demeter scent range
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering