The young face of Channel 5 applies old soap

The new station aims to be both streetwise and friendly. But its viewers can expect little originality
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The Independent Online
As Channel 5's first advertising campaign - with its streetwise "Give Me 5" logo - begins, its prospective viewers could be forgiven for wondering what exactly it will offer when it goes on air in the New Year.

With less than five months before lift-off, Britain's newest terrestrial channel refuses to re- lease up-to-date programming details, for fear of handing ammunition to its rivals.

Unlike Channel 4, Channel 5 has no mandate to serve minorities and no moral high-ground to occupy. It is there purely to make money for its shareholders - Pearson, MAI and CLT - the Treasury and advertisers, who have long complained about ITV's high rates.

This means that its viewers can expect a derivative and downmarket mix of drama and children's, leisure, educational and daytime programming when the channel goes on air on 1 January - if, of course, it manages to retune the nation's video recorders in time.

Its licence application made it clear that the emphasis would be on low-cost television, entertainingly presented. This is because it has a programme budget of pounds 110m a year, compared with ITV's pounds 600m.

One innovation it is considering is using presenters for programme links. "Our Channel 5 will not be faceless," its bid document said. "Other channels talk to viewers between programmes through a series of disembodied voices and rapid graphic displays. Instead, we will show a human face throughout the day."

This approach will be echoed in other ways. Accessibility is key, with efforts to involve the public rather than talk at them as the BBC has been perceived to do in the past.

Leisure programmes will form a major part of the new channel's pitch. Gardening, wine, consumer and cookery shows are all to be offered by a channel which is seeking to position itself as the "modern mainstream" alternative, more aligned to contemporary living than ITV.

Dawn Airey, Channel 5's youthful director of programming - formerly head of children's and daytime at ITV, and entertainment and arts at Channel 4 - can promise only a 60:40 ratio in favour of original programmes.

But the public can look forward to glossy re-runs to fill the gaps. Channel 5 has already secured rights to the slick American teen soaps Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place.

Other re-runs which might be offered are Minder, Edward and Mrs Simpson, Capital City, Tales of the Unexpected, Rumpole of the Bailey, The Sweeney and Hazell.

Corinne Hollingworth, whose credits include EastEnders and Casualty, not to mention the disastrous Eldorado, is producing a five-nights-a- week soap to go out at 6.30pm in her role as drama controller. This will be aimed primarily at a young adult audience.

The tone will be relentlessly light. Cartoons are likely to be scheduled at breakfast time, leisure and lifestyle programmes before lunch and a daily magazine programme on weekday afternoons.

There will be some kind of entertainment and talk show featuring a band, while early plans included a documentary, Your Report, to follow members of the public investigating a topic of their choice.

News, to be produced by ITN - which is currently recruiting reporters and pro-ducers - will have a European flavour and go out between 8pm and 9pm. This will allow the screening of a move at 9pm five nights a week, to woo viewers from ITV's News at Ten, a weak point in that channel's scheduling.

Channel 5 will not have the money to compete in the bidding wars for major sports rights. Instead it will concentrate on "minority" sports and promises programmes on sailing, tennis, boxing, golf and snooker as well as late-night live sport from America.

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