5 days in the life of David Elstein

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The Independent Online
Monday: It's been a busy media weekend. Breakfast With Frost (actually, Diana Madill), The Box on Radio 5, Loose Ends. Sharing a taxi back to Hammersmith from the BBC with the actor Desmond Barrit (the bridge closure now forcing together northsiders and southsiders), I pray he will not compare Channel 5 retuning with The Comedy Of Errors. He is far too polite, and invites us to see his new show at the Lyric. Should we bring our 15- year-old? Well, there's one sketch ... Don't worry, he's heard it all before. One of our marketing wheezes has succeeded beyond all expectation. Having bought as advertising space all the listings columns which from Sunday will carry our programme details, we invited viewers to tune in button five to Channel 5, or call us if they wanted information. In three days, 1.2 million people called, putting pressure even on our 500,000-calls- a-day capacity. At Ieast they're interested.

Tuesday: What is it about South Africans in exile? Last year, my old Thames TV colleague Jon Blair stood triumphantly on stage, having won the Oscar for his documentary on Anne Frank. Now, in the midst of the shower of awards for The English Patient, my good friend Eric Abraham claims his moment of glory when his production, Kolya, wins the Oscar for best foreign film. Married to a refugee from the crushing of the Prague Spring, Eric almost lost his house financing his first Czech-made film, Chonkin. Now, he and director Jan Sverak will have their choice of projects and backers. It's a strange day. As I walk across the bridge, a cyclist calls out: "Good luck, David!" I belatedly realise it is Martin Bowley, head of Carlton Sales, Channel 5's most vocal critic. At lunch, bump into ITV network director, Marcus Plantin. "Why are your Radio Times listings headed yellow when mine are grey?" he asks. He reaches for his mobile ... In the office, a letter from John Birt wishing Channel 5 luck, but not too much. I sneak a look at the bridge columns in the Times and the Daily Telegraph, to check if they've spelled my name correctly. Well, not mine but Daniel's: his team has just won the National Schools' Championship, by the narrowest of margins. All is correct. Quiet, paternal glow.

Wednesday: More interviews. By Monday no one will want to hear another word from me. "Yes, the retuning is almost over. If you've played back a video recently without a problem you won't need retuning. But make sure your TV has been tuned to the Channel 5 frequency by Sunday. If the signal's not good enough, you may need a new aerial: but that should improve all your TV reception." Lunch with a key shareholder: tell him he's sitting on a goldmine and just needs the right tools to dig it out. Launch party for Liz Forgan and Alan Wright's new production company at the Metropolitan Hotel. Can't tell the gatecrashers from the security men, except that Pete Postlethwaite and Robbie Williams are two of them (gatecrashers, that is). Thank Alan Yentob for BBC1's scheduling of a 60-minute news against one of our movies for the whole of April. Offer to cross-promote them: he gives me a look.

Thursday: Five-hour board meeting. Is everything ready? Will we be on all cable systems? (Yes.) Everyone laughs at the promo reel for Jack Docherty's talk show. The Spice Girls video earns plaudits for marketing director David Brook. Chairman Dyke wishes the whole channel well. A chocolate cake in the shape of a TV arrives, decorated in our colour bars. Lunch at the New Statesman with Oftel head, Don Cruickshank. Is he the man to tame BSkyB? Then an emergency meeting of National Film School governors, as ever trying to square the financial circle. Return to discover a spoof diary of mine in the trade mag, Broadcast. Unnervingly funny. Am I really that self-satisfied?

FRIDAY: Tennis, phone calls, three articles to finish, the last of Sunday's tapes to view. Empty streets remind me this is a holiday weekend, but everyone at Channel 5 is working hard. On-screen graphics have arrived from Los Angeles. Sales director Nick Milligan is as pleased by the special ads his clients have created for our launch as by his full order book for April and May. Dawn Airey, as ever, is in back-to-back meetings. I await my turn. Six months have flown by, and the countdown messages stuck on Dawn's door are down to the last three days. Sunday's simply says: lift-off! Underneath that, tempting fate, is one for Monday: Houston, we have a problem.

David Elstein is chief executive of Channel 5

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