Shock and pop as Channel 5 goes live with modern mix
Launch of Britain's first terrestrial station for 15 years offers familiar fare, plus a bare bottom at 6.30pm
Monday 31 March 1997
The channel relied so enthusiastically on an endorsement from the Spice Girls pop group that it could almost have been the Conservative Party. The new channel can only hope that its future is a little more rosy.
Channel 5's first programme was a video of the all-girl band singing their version of the Manfred Mann song "5-4-3-2-1".
Station executives hope that at least 20 million British viewers tuned in at some point.
The first viewing figures will not be available until lunchtime today, but the station will not set too much store by them until it knows just how many people can receive the signal without having to invest up to pounds 150 in a new television aerial.
The Spice Girls will be one of Channel 5's main weapons in the ratings war, the chief executive, David Elstein, revealed. The band members will star in at least two exclusive made-for-television music specials this year in which they will perform their own songs.
Mr Elstein said: "You will see plenty of the Spice Girls on air this year.
"We are hoping to make new kinds of music shows with them. It is a mutual admiration society. They are good for us and we are good for them."
When Channel 4 was launched in 1982, its first programme was Countdown, a word game that is still running. Without wanting to break the hearts of their 10-year old fans, it would be unwise to predict that the Spice Girls will be around in 15 years.
But the real question is, will Channel 5 outlast them?
On the evidence of the "This Is 5!" showreel that followed up the girls' video, the station's "modern and mainstream" programming is already familiar to the viewers of Channel 4 and the satellite channel Sky 1 - plenty of youthful comedy quiz shows and stand-up comedians, United States imports full of beautiful people, and a not-too-ironic chat show host.
Much is resting on the success of its soap opera Family Affair. The first show got off to a good start at least in the publicity stakes by putting a naked buttock on television at 6.30pm. Viewers could see actor Miles Petit's bare bottom and a large tattoo as his bath towel was whipped off by actress Liz Crowther.
Channel 5's programming director, Dawn Airey, described the scene as mild and inoffensive.
"Most people will find it aesthetically pleasing. It's in the best possible taste and very light-hearted," she said.
However, it attracted criticism from Conservative MP Nicholas Winterton, who said: "It is unacceptable to have nude scenes on at a time when children are watching.
"For this type of scene to be shown in the first episode makes it even more alarming."
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