Will the Channel 5 dog have its day?

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The Independent Online
Britain gets a new free television channel tomorrow night after ten years of dither, months of advertising, weeks of hype and the retuning of nine million video recorders.

When the Spice Girls switch the channel on at 6pm Easter Sunday - three months later than originally planned - the 75 per cent of the population that doesn't get satellite or cable television will have its first new television service since the launch of Channel 4 in 1982.

The channel's management hopes that after paying pounds 22m to the Government for the licence and over pounds 150m to retune videos affected by its signal, it will grab around eight per cent of our viewing time and attract the advertisers who lobbied for it to be set up in the first place.

Channel 5 exists because advertisers wanted it, not because viewers were asking for another channel. In the mid-Eighties the ITV monopoly was the only place advertisers could get access to commercial TV and they were paying high prices. They lobbied the Government and in 1986 it set technicians the task of finding a frequency that could be used for a new commercial channel.

"Channel 5 is all about more choice for advertisers," said Mike Gorman, media director of advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi. "Not about more choice for viewers."

"In the Eighties, advertisers went into see the Government about getting advertising on the BBC so it would bring the cost of TV advertising down," added Mr Gorman. "What they came out with was a sop and its called Channel 5."

However the channel will give more than 8,700 hours of fresh and not so fresh programmes free to the 60 per cent of the country that will see it in its first few months. And it is causing some of the other broadcasters to pull up their socks. ITV has started running Emmerdale Farm five-nights a week and is pulling out all the stops with first-run movies like Ace Ventura Pet Detective to try to protect its viewing share.

The BBC has said it will not be changing its schedules to see off Channel 5, but will add it to its mix of competitors.

Dawn Airey, Channel 5's programme director, has been chanting the mantra "modern and mainstream" for months to describe the philosophy that underpins her pounds 110m programme budget_ the smallest of any terrestrial channel.

The idea is that Channel 5 will be as modern as Channel 4 but not as highbrow, and will be as mass market as BBC 1 and ITV, but not as fuddy- duddy.

One manifestation of this modern outlook is that without the strict public service requirements of ITV and BBC the channel can schedule its programmes at maximum advantage against the others. The other modern aspect is its plan to show the same programmes or types of programmes at the same time every night so viewers know where to find them - seen as a prerequisite as we enter a digital, multi-channel age.

The main planks of the schedule are the programmes that go against the main channel's local and national news programmes. At 6.30 every evening it will show Family Affairs, its UK-based soap devised by the man that produced Brookside. The soap will depart from the traditional geographical setting - like Coronation Street or EastEnders - to concentrate on one family and the people it comes into contact with.

To sustain a five night a week schedule the producers promise that it will serve up low-key dramas and crises: "The 6.30 slot is a softer slot," says Mal Young, who devised Family Affairs. "Viewers want good drama then, but they don't want people committing suicide. We'll always be looking for the optimistic outcome."

The other important slot for the channel is its nightly nine o'clock movie that goes against both the Nine O'clock News and News at Ten. The films are patchy, the first month includes some TV premieres like Mrs Doubtfire but many of the films have languished unwatched on video library shelves for many years - Highlander, The Dresser and 84 Charing Cross Road are the best of some of the oldies it has planned.

A lot will also be resting on the shoulders of comedian Jack Docherty, whose late night chat show will need to bring in plenty of young and upmarket male viewers to please the advertisers. Some of the schedule will be simply atrocious: The Bold and The Beautiful, a wobbly-walled daytime soap which makes Neighbours look like The English Patient, and Sunset Beach may be no better.

The news will be the channel's big risk, on every hour there will be two minute updates then at 8.30 in the evening there will be a half hour hosted by Scottish anchorwoman Kirtsy Young.

The plan is to have Young walking around the studio as she talks to different journalists about different stories. It will also follow a more `popular' news agenda and is already acknowledged by Channel 5 as a likely target for its detractors.

Five to watch


A celebrity in Scotland, where she read news on STV before getting her own Oprah-style discussion programme. Said to be cool under pressure, the 28-year-old will front the innovative "walking and talking" main news bulletin. Cursed with being blonde and attractive, she has enemies suggesting that walking and talking at the same time may stretch her.


The 19-year-old actress who will play Melanie Hart in the five-day-a- week soap Family Affairs, which is likely to be a hit with tabloids seeking another Kylie and Jason. Cordelia has a good chance as the "flighty" sister with an active love life and tight clothes. Chances of celebrity depends on her not being the main character killed off early as a ratings builder.


Owner of the Enak Enak Indonesian restaurant in London, Nancy Lam is threatening to make mince-meat of Delia Smith - at least in Channel 5's aggressive poster advertising. Will specialise in simple to cook Asian dishes with Lam's hen-pecked husband Ben acting as the Johnny to Lam's Nineties Fanny Craddock.


Already a minor cult celebrity thanks to the two surreal but excellent Channel 4 comedy series Absolutely and Mr Don and Mr George, Docherty, 34, is charged with breathing life into the chat-show formula. His best chance of sustaining the show five nights a week depends on allowing his anarchic persona to come through without subverting the whole show.


Soccer is a Jack Russell terrier whose stage name is Wishbone. Star status may be hampered by a 9am Sunday slot, but the "small dog with the big imagination" has become a star in the US. The frankly weird premise of this children's show is that Wishbone has a daydream in each episode that turns him into a character from classical literature.