No holds barred in battle for late-night viewers

Watch out for television with attitude, with shows featuring 'Readers' Husbands' (in jockstraps) and 'Toilet Talk'. Michael Leapman reports

THE storm over Friday night's new late-night TV show, Hotel Babylon, though embarrassing for ITV, could not have come at a better time. A leaked fax from Heineken, the programme's sponsor, demanded that there should be more of its beer on the bar, and fewer blacks in the audience. At least that inspired people to tune in, if only to count the incidence of both: not much of the former but a lot of the latter.

Until then, last week's launch of the new night-time mini-network by nine of the 15 regional ITV companies had scarcely gripped the public's imagination. The bid to persuade people to keep the set switched on at the end of News at Ten, and to stay tuned after midnight, had gone largely unnoticed.

At present audiences fall away rapidly after 10.30, when national ITV networking ends and the regional companies devise their own schedules.

From the 20 million-plus likely to be watching all channels during prime time, the number falls to around eight million in the half hour before midnight and to below two million by 1.30, after which insomniacs and night workers predominate.

Worse, ITV's share of this dwindling audience drops after the news, from an average of 36 per cent earlier to 28 per cent by 1.30, when only half a million people are tuned to ITV. So the nine regional companies set up an eight-person editorial board to commission new programmes for night owls, Hotel Babylon among them. Rod Henwood, managing director of Central, is one of the eight board members.

"We used to have predominantly music and showbiz-based output at these times that was cheap and cheerful," he explains. "We thought we could generate a more appealing service and some sponsorship income."

The new programmes are just as cheap as the old ones - the average cost of pounds 8,000 per hour has not been increased - but are less noisily cheerful. Out goes heavy metal, in comes heavy introspection, leavened by a fashionably frank approach to gender. The chief ingredient is chat, especially about sex and personal issues.

This "television with attitude" is what young Heineken drinkers are presumed to lap up. On the first Hotel Babylon, much of the attitude was supplied by La Toya Jackson, who, coiled in a pet snake, confided in the presenter Dani Behr about her visit to a sperm bank.

This is an "advertiser supplied programme", which goes one degree beyond sponsorship: it means that Heineken have direct contact with the producers, Bob Geldof's Planet 24. The ITV companies that screen it remain responsible for enforcing the Independent Television Commission's requirement that no "undue prominence" should be given to the sponsor's products. They need not have worried. Apart from brief credits at the beginning and end, Heineken were nowhere in evidence, even in the commercial breaks. No wonder their sponsorship department was angry.

Hotel Babylon is followed on Fridays by The Good Sex Guide . . . Late, in which Toyah Willcox hosts a low-key version of those self-revelatory talk shows pioneered in the United States, last week featuring a man being smothered with chocolate. On Saturdays comes Pyjama Party, in which young women in frilly nightwear try to recreate their conspiratorial teenage years. The programme's presenter and creator, Katie Puckrick, insists that not all the confidences exchanged will be about sex, but don't bank on it. Wednesdays offer Dear Nick, an agony uncle: last week he covered body piercing, this week it's losing your virginity.

"We conducted extensive research into the numbers of people viewing and their attitude to the night-time services around," says Mr Henwood. "The research showed that identifying the night-time audience wasn't just a question of making generalisations about age but looking at people's lifestyles. Pyjama Party and the other youth-oriented programmes we're showing are not just for 16 to 24-year-olds, but are likely to be watchable by an older audience as well."

This may excuse the presence of Bruce Forsyth in a commercial during Hotel Babylon, but older folk watching are still made to feel voyeurs rather than viewers. Both Ms Puckrick and Ms Behr are blonde twentysomething graduates from The Word, Channel 4's archetypal sex-'n'-music youth programme - also made by Planet 24 - that went off the air last April, after complaints about its breaches of taste guidelines.

Channel 4, keen to keep its lead in this field, plans a fresh assault on the Friday pre-midnight hour later this month with The Girlie Show, like Pyjama Party but with buttons undone. It will have a trio of presenters: the bisexual American super-model Rachel Williams, a 21-year-old newcomer from Bolton called Sally Cox and Clare Gorham, a black journalist.

"In concept it's the flip side of laddish culture," enthuses Greg Day, Channel 4's spokesman on youth programming. "It reflects the changing tastes and habits of young women. Rachel Williams is very much the in- your-face type of presenter who will add an aggressive attitude." The programme will be pre-recorded, to avoid the regulatory problems experienced by The Word.

Regular features of The Girlie Show will include Readers' Husbands, in which viewers will be invited to submit photographs of their partners, says Mr Day. "Not indecent, but doing something like wearing a leotard jockstrap and looking a complete idiot."

Another segment will be Toilet Talk, fly-on-the-wall coverage of what women say about boyfriends in the loo.

Men will no doubt watch, but for masochistic reasons. The climax will come when the presenters each nominate their Wanker of the Week. If the programme had already started, this week's odds-on favourite would be Justus Kos, Heineken's in-your-fax head of sponsorship.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
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 General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...

Sauce Recruitment: Retail Planning Manager - Home Entertainment UK

salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - London - up to £40,000

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower