After marriage, sex and birth, German TV takes on death

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The Germans will soon become the first TV viewers in the world to enjoy the dubious privilege of watching a "This was your life" series about their deceased relatives and friends on a channel devoted exclusively to old age, death and dying.

Etos TV, which takes its name from the Greek word for a year, will feature documentaries about graveyards, televised obituaries, retirement home tips and even advice about installing in-house stair-lifts for the elderly or infirm. Its target audience is Germany's rapidly ageing population.

The €10m (7m) project has been set up by Wolf Tilmann Schneider, 51, a former private television executive who has joined forces with Germany's Funeral Association to launch the channel that is due to start broadcasting on the Astra satellite from January.

"It won't be death TV as some people have claimed," said Mr Schneider. "More than 800,000 people die in Germany every year, but the death notices in the papers reveal almost nothing about them. We want to change that by working with the relatives and the undertakers."

The channel aims to capitalise on the changing demographic in Germany, which has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Last year there were almost 150,000 more deaths than births in Germany while the number of elderly people receiving professional care was estimated at 2.1 million. By 2020, a third of Germany's population will be pensioners.

"There are millions of people confronting the issues of ageing and death, but we Germans are in denial about the subject while most of the media ignores it," insisted Mr Schneider.

Viewers who tune into Etos TV can expect to watch programmes such as The World's Most Beautiful Cemeteries which will feature graveyards in both Germany and abroad. "It may come as a surprise, but older people really enjoy visiting cemeteries not just to mourn, but to enjoy peace and quiet," said Mr Schneider.

Other programmes will aim to provide Germany's ageing viewers with a wealth of information about undertakers, insurance schemes, retirement homes, stair-lifts and medication for age-related complaints. Companies targeting the elderly with their products will be asked to fund the programmes.

However the channel's mainstay is expected to be televised obituaries. For an undisclosed fee, viewers will be able to have a "This was your life" video made about their deceased loved ones featuring interviews with relatives and friends. "This was the idea which encouraged me to launch the project," said Mr Schneider. "I thought, 'Why not take obituaries out of the newspapers and put them on television?'"

Germany's Funeral Association, which represents 85 per cent of the country's undertakers, is backing the TV obituary project. Kerstin Gernig, the association's spokeswoman, said there had been a rise in the number of people approaching her organisation who wanted professional help in documenting the lives of loved ones they had lost.

Mr Schneider said his project was also an attempt to lift the taboos that still surrounded the issues of death and dying in the Western world. "Almost everything is aired on television nowadays but death and dying remain the big exception," he said.

However, the channel will not be showing images of dead bodies or the dying and will not film the deceased being buried. "Etos TV will be a channel in good taste and with high standards," Mr Schneider was at pains to stress.