Part Three

Ian Jones takes on Channel 4

First published August 2001

I had a mixed response to my proposed schedules.

One of the chief queries raised was regarding Brookside. Concerns were naturally expressed over the reaction of the loyal audience the show continues to win; plus how Mersey Television would respond (either selling the series elsewhere, or maybe having to close down altogether, taking Hollyoaks with it). Could the channel survive without a soap opera at the heart of its schedules? I agreed it would be a risk, and argued along the lines stated earlier – that above all the show was now doing the channel a disservice. One comment was that such a decision would never be made in real life, and was a luxury this kind of project afforded; I disagreed, stating how I believed the channel would still recoup just as much money and maximise audiences elsewhere.

Naturally a follow-on question from this concerned drama elsewhere in the schedules. Questions were raised about my use of established writers – Paul Abbott and Andrew Davies – rather than new talent. I argued that big names were necessary to announce the “arrival” of the new drama strands, having enough clout to make an impact and attract viewers’ attention, benefiting new writers and actors who could be featured in subsequent productions. The point was raised that I was running Hollyoaks at 6.30pm, and As If at 6pm – why? And wouldn’t Palace Hill look terribly inferior following As If rather than preceding it?

There were criticisms of my afternoon programming – that the same shows weren’t stripped across all weekdays, and that this would militate against building up regular audiences. I believed the people tuning in for shows such as Watercolour Challenge would be of the mind to either watch anything that was on at that hour, or be the sort who checked their Radio Times each week and noted when their favourite programmes were on – hence no confusion would arise. And why shouldn’t there by diverse programming each afternoon, opposed to the rigidly fixed patterns on BBC1, BBC2 and ITV?

The point was made about the number of revived formats in the schedules – which I agreed was significant, but again I thought the shows warranted a return because they still had potential (Wanted) or were flexible enough to contain change and be refreshed (As It Happens). Most people thought my intention to not screen any of the “chat show” during The Show was perverse and removed the tension from the programme.

Would Anthony H Wilson ever consider another quiz show? I argued he was a surprise choice 10 years ago and needed the money now more than then. Concern was expressed over what Brian Hayes would be wearing to present The Morning After. More serious was the criticism at the use of the BBC format Living with the Enemy within the breakfast programme. Was this in any way possible or practical? There was a mixed response to the entire Morning After package – would anyone actually watch? I contended they would simply because of the strong presenter line-up and popular names and brands. I didn’t intend it to be a ratings winner – and it was a flexible enough format to adapt and change if necessary.

My use of archive and repeat programmes came in for attention. I pointed out it was a much more distinctive and constructive policy than sticking out ancient episodes of Friends and repeats from last week, and gave overnights a new identity. Perhaps inevitably, the point was made about their being so many ex-music journalists on the channel. I thought that the people in question had all stopped working in that field between five and 20 years ago and weren’t known first and foremost as being NME folk. Everyone stated they’d never dream of watching The Eleventh Hour, but given what was later said by one person about the entire schedule (“Channel 4 has just been scheduled for the six people sitting round this table to watch”) maybe this was a good sign.

There was further criticism about there being too many programmes on the media, presented by people in the media. I argued that this topic, and television itself, was one of the most important elements to everyday life – and one which at present receives almost next to no coverage on TV at all. Still, the comment was expressed that the 60 minutes of On Screen, plus Right to Reply, plus a TV-based drama, added up to maybe too much. I’d scheduled Who’ll Do the Pudding? at 12.30pm on Wednesday when I meant Here’s One I Made Earlier. Phoenix Nights followed directly on from a Peter Kay vehicle at 9.30pm on BBC1, and some thought it wouldn’t be a good series anyway. Someone suggested it would be worthwhile running The West Wing from the start of series one to get new viewers hooked from the start.

Nobody was taken with my Donna Air vehicle. Some wondered whether Richard and Judy would like fronting a show with no phone-ins; I reminded them that the pair had only signed to C4 to “do something different”. The point was made that there were a lot of magazine-based shows. I thought the various presenters were different enough from each other and individually had strong enough personalities to make their respective programmes their own. Another criticism was the similarity between Picture Palace and Spotlight On … in their shared coverage of the cinema. Lastly it was thought there were too many old kids programmes on early Sunday mornings.

<Part Two