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
Sunday 07 January 1996
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.
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 Prince Harry leaving the armed forced to pursue conservation projects in Africa
- 4 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 5 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Boris Nemtsov shot dead: Outspoken Putin critic who had expressed fears for his life is killed near the Kremlin
Leonard Nimoy dead: Star Trek Spock actor dies after suffering lung disease
PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin, says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'
White and gold or blue and black – what colour is the dress? An eyewitness gives a definitive answer
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...
Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - An outstanding senior opportunity for...
salary equal to £40K pro-rata: Sauce Recruitment: Are you available to start a...
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...