Part Two

Steve Williams takes on Channel 5

First published August 2001

I had decided that my new Channel 5 line-up would see a return to “stripping and stranding”, especially in the evening, so my first job as C5 scheduler was to work out what these strands would be, and when they would be broadcast. Then it would be time to move on to look at what would go in each strand.

The most obvious “strand” to start with was the film every night. As C5 has a smaller programme budget than the other four channels, most evenings usually include a film as it fills up a fair portion of the evening, and if it’s half-decent there’s a chance of some impressive viewing figures. As a realistic schedule, I had to continue the movie slot. However, I was unsure about its current placing at 9pm. I felt this was constricting in some ways as it meant that any series that I wanted to run would have to go out too early or too late. Also, I wanted to take advantage of what I thought would be the slot at 10pm when both BBC1 and ITV were going to show their news bulletins (I wasn’t aware until the meeting that BBC1 were going to move their bulletin back to 9pm). In any case, I felt that a 10pm slot for the film would be more appropriate than 9pm as it meant that we could show a bigger range of films, uncut. Also, it would have been a useful alternative to what other channels were screening at the same time – my idea was to grab the BBC1 and ITV audience when the news came on, who wanted to continue watching mainstream output. Thus the first fixture in my schedules would be the film at 10pm.

This gave me another hour to play with in the evening. What I then had to worry about was the timing of the main news bulletin on the channel. This has been a real stumbling block for C5 in the past, as they’ve never really worked out a decent timeslot for it – it started at 8.30pm, but seemingly the channel felt this got in the way of the entertainment they wanted to run at that point, so it moved to 7pm, then 6pm – surely the most pointless time to run a news programme, opposite the most popular bulletin of the day on BBC1. At the moment, thanks to the ITC not allowing them to move the news out of their definition of “peaktime”, there are now two bulletins each evening at 5.30pm and 7.30pm – a wholly unsatisfactory compromise. I wanted to move the main news away from the bulletins on the other channels to provide an alternative; when they were showing entertainment, we’d show the news, and vice versa.

In the end I had three projected time slots – 7.30pm, 8pm and 9pm. The 7.30pm slot would have been opposite the soaps on BBC1 and ITV, which would have meant that we could do our public service commitments at a time when few people would have been watching anyway, and concentrated on entertainment at other times. But to me this felt like too much of a ghetto, and besides, I had thought it could be useful as the first half of an hour of factual programming each night. As I wanted my strands to start on the hour, 7.30pm would have been very awkward. I came up with 9pm as I still thought that BBC1′s news would stay where it was, so that slot would have been free for a bulletin, but this felt too late, and would get in the way of the entertainment programmes I wanted to show. So I decided on 8pm – again it’s not a great time on C5 anyway, thanks to the soaps, drama and entertainment on other channels, but it could get a decent audience in that slot. It had also not been “claimed” by any of the other channels so C5 could make it synonymous with their news bulletin.

As stated, my idea was to make the news part of my weeknight factual strand, and these strands now began to fall into place; I would keep my two soaps, Home and Away and Family Affairs, where they were to make up a drama hour at 6pm. I decided not to drop Family Affairs, as I probably wasn’t going to commission much else in the way of original drama, and I thought that dropping it but keeping Home and Away would have looked like an attempt to rely entirely on imports. My factual hour would be at 8pm, starting with the news before moving on to a documentary or magazine series. Then I had my films running for two hours at 10pm. I then had to work out where to put my entertainment shows. The programmes that I inherited (Greed, The Mole, Fort Boyard) seemed a bit lightweight for 9pm, so I pencilled them in at 7pm; admittedly these would be opposite Coronation Street and EastEnders, but they were certainly different.

At 9pm I decided that I would schedule imported drama. I already had CSI and Charmed on my shelves, as well as solid performers like Xena and Hercules, but it was obvious that I would need to start shopping for some new programmes if I wasn’t going to be reduced to showing Z-list series like Burke’s Law on some evenings. Thus I began to write a shopping list of programmes I thought would work well in that slot.

In the meantime I needed to sort out my final strand, which would take the channel from midnight until the morning. I decided to keep sport as the major focus overnight, as we still had the rights to baseball, American Football and ice hockey, and clearly it was worth keeping these on. I kept each sport in their current slots – baseball on Sundays and Wednesdays (technically Monday and Thursday mornings, of course), ice hockey on Mondays and American Football on Tuesdays. I needed something else for Thursdays, though – C5 were currently showing football from Holland, Argentina and the USA that night, but I felt that didn’t really fit in with the other sports and I really wanted an American sport to go there (I didn’t think Major League Soccer had the same sort of appeal as baseball or American Football). So there was something else to try and find.

Before that, though, I was informed about the three “celebrities” I had to find vehicles for – these were Jerry Springer, Melinda Messenger and Keith Chegwin; a fairly motley bunch. In a way I’d already found vehicles for Jerry and Melinda as I hadn’t got rid of Greed and Fort Boyard, but I decided to create some new programmes for them as well. I felt that Melinda would be useful to front a new programme which could fill the gap between the film and the overnight sport each evening, at midnight. This programme wouldn’t have to be high-concept; I imagined a stripped programme like Jack Docherty used to do, but I didn’t want it to be a chat show as I remembered Jack Docherty being reduced to interviewing people like Fish and Sam Fox, and I didn’t think there were enough decent guests about. Instead I decided on a miscellany format, which could feature controversial pop videos that otherwise wouldn’t be shown, a comedy element and perhaps a phone-in. I felt that a looser format would be more suitable for late night viewing, and also if the programme was of varying length – in case the preceding film was substantially longer or shorter than two hours – it could easily be extended or truncated. The programme was to be called Melinda at Midnight, although I later changed this to the faux-risque Melinda Stripped, and there could be a weekend highlights show called Melinda’s Best Assets.

Jerry Springer was harder to account for. I’d decided to get rid of his chat show, as I wanted to strip Melinda’s programme every night of the week, and I thought it was the sort of pointless format I wanted to do away with. I instead decided to give him a factual programme, remembering his reports for Five News during the General Election campaign. The format I came up with would involve Jerry travelling through the States and reporting on offbeat stories, which I felt tied in with his talk show; the same sort of “unusual” stories could be included. Also it was something Jerry could do without having to commute to Britain, he could produce it at the same time as his talk show. So it was two down, and just Cheggers to accommodate, and I thought he might be better off in the daytime, so I put him on the back burner for now and looked at finishing off my evening line-up.

It was time to start bartering with the other controllers for some of their produce. The main things I wanted were some imported drama to show at 9pm each evening, and also the rights to a US sport to fill the hole on Thursday nights. I looked at what the other channels had that I thought would be useful on C5. My first idea was to attempt to buy Angel off Channel 4, as they had trouble scheduling the series last year – it was too adult for 6pm, but not adult enough for the 10pm import slot, but my new youth-centred C5 would be able to fit it in at 9pm, like Sky do, and it could grab a loyal audience. I also thought I could make a half-hearted attempt to wrestle Buffy the Vampire Slayer from BBC2, but I felt this was too established on the BBC and they probably wouldn’t let it go. I didn’t think this would be the case for their new import Seven Days, though, so I pitched for that. From ITV, I had my eye on Nash Bridges and The Practice – ITV had tried to make hits out of both of them, but they’d never been able to, and I felt that they were the sort of long-running amiable imports that I could rely on.

Then Ian (C4) published his list of programmes he was selling, and the one that caught my eye most of all was Dawson’s Creek, which I felt could also go in this 9pm slot. I particularly wanted lively, youth-orientated imports for this slot to emphasise the “feisty” nature of the channel – I’d already invented my slogan; “It’s fun, it’s feisty, it’s Five!” I knew Ian had a soft spot for The Wonder Years, so I offered this up as a replacement for “Angel and/or Dawson’s Creek“. The Wonder Years and Angel were therefore duly swapped. Ian then said he’d already had an offer for Dawson’s Creek, but he’d get back to me if it didn’t work out, and also that he didn’t know what I could give him exchange, except for Daria. In the meantime, Barney at ITV said that I could have Nash Bridges and The Practice, which I was pleased about, and I knew that ITV needed to freshen up their overnight schedules anyway, so they would have clearly just been thrown away if I hadn’t gone for them. Thus I got them purely for the price of Matthew Wright, whose daytime show I’d already got rid of. Barney also asked if he could have Dutch Football and the MLS. I was happy to give him the MLS, and said that he could have the Dutch football in return for something. I actually tried to get the Bundesliga first, but ITV said that Sky now had the rights. He thought I could try for secondary rights for Italian Football from Channel 4, but in the end I decided to abandon football and thus asked for the rights to NBA Basketball, which I got. This meant that I could fill my slot on Thursday nights with another American sport, and one that fitted in well with the others. I attempted to palm off Motorcycling Grand Prix to ITV, as I thought it could go with their F1 coverage, but ITV said “we’re more interested in narrowing our sports portfolio than expanding it, so we’re not interested in MotoGP”, and in the end I thought that it wasn’t really worth trying to flog as it’s only an occasional series.

Almost in jest I then decided to inform everyone that the rights to Jailbreak and Touch the Truck were available, and to my surprise, Jack on BBC2 offered Seven Days in exchange for the rights to Jailbreak. This I leapt for immediately before Jack changed his mind. I now had enough imports to fill each weekday, and the schedule would run as follows – Monday would be CSI, Angel would go on Tuesday, Charmed would fill Wednesdays, we’d have The Practice on Thursday and on Friday we’d show Seven Days. This meant I had Nash Bridges spare, and if I got the rights to Dawson’s Creek, I could have shown it on a Sunday night, as a decent alternative to the middle-aged output on other channels. Ian at C4 then said he’d like to know what time I was planning to show Home and Away and what time I’d schedule the news before he could consider giving me Dawson’s Creek. I told him that I had no plans to move Home and Away, and that the news would be “later” than it is now, but I didn’t want to give this away as it was going to be one of the surprises in my schedule.

I then moved on to my daytime schedules. I felt that at 6am we should be doing something other than a straight news magazine, so thought up a new format which would be radically different from other channels. I therefore came up with Five News on Demand, which would consist of a five-minute news bulletin, broadcast every five minutes. Since I was planning to end this programme at 7am, it felt that the average viewer at that time of the morning wouldn’t stick around for very long, so this would only require the audience to watch for five minutes. I admit, it was slightly gimmicky, but I felt it would be a real alternative to other fare, and stick with the snappy ethos of Five News. Then at 7am I stuck with children’s programmes. I thought that we could drop children’s output at the weekend, as there didn’t seem to be much point to it when other channels were doing the same, and without this, there could be more money pumped into the weekday programming. Thus I scheduled Dappledown Farm (much to Channel 4′s chagrin), Havakazoo, Bear in the Big Blue House and Beachcomber Bay, and made sure they were initially all new episodes, which would make up for the ending of the strand on Saturdays and Sundays.

Moving on to the morning, I felt that there would be too much opposition from BBC1, ITV and, from the autumn, Sky One (with it’s new GMTV-produced magazine with Lorraine Kelly) to justify similar programming on C5. Thus I decided to move all my original programming to the afternoon, and rely on imports in the morning. I was to strip repeats of the action series Hercules at 9am, then, nicked off ITV, Nash Bridges at 10am. I decided to move Ricki Lake to a later slot than she had at the moment, as I wanted to make more of her – her programme seemed to embody the qualities of C5, being young, attitudinal and lively, as opposed to the dull Oprah, which I felt was often irrelevant to a UK audience. Thus Oprah went – nobody wanted to buy her, either – and Ricki was promoted to the midmorning, at 11.15am. Between Nash and Ricki, I kept The Bold and the Beautiful going – it was by no means a great programme, but it adequately filled up 25 minutes.

I decided to keep lunchtimes much as they are – Five News would remain at 12 noon, but I dropped Rob Butler as the evening Five News was also presented by a man, Charlie Stayt, and I wanted to even out the genders. So Rob swapped places with Katie Ledger and moved to the weekends. Then Home and Away and Family Affairs stayed where they were, between 12.30pm and 1.30pm. However, this looked slightly repeat-heavy, and thus I decided that the 12.30pm showing of Home and Away would be the day’s first showing, repeated at 6pm. This seemed to be more of an incentive for daytime viewers to tune into C5 and was, I felt, the order that most people would expect – this was the order it had on ITV. It was an attempt to provide a “treat” for the lunchtime viewer.

Then from 1.30pm would be the time for new programmes. This was where Cheggers was to be deployed, as I looked to replace The Wright Stuff, Matthew Wright’s programme, with a new format. I was aware that Cheggers used to have a slot on GMTV where you could phone in and air your views on various subjects, and so I gave him Chat with Cheggers, a new phone-in series. Viewers could have their say on the day’s news – as long as the news was entertaining, perhaps, I didn’t want this to be depressing and I wasn’t sure Keith could handle very weighty topics – and there could be guests in for them to question. Basically this was a straight replacement for The Wright Stuff. Cheggers was to get an hour, then he would hand over to Gloria Hunniford for her existing Open House series, which I was to extend to 90 minutes, before the afternoon film at the new time of 4pm.

I decided to drop the hourly news bulletins in the morning – especially the 8am bulletin which was ludicrously out of place during the Milkshake children’s strand. I kept them during the afternoon, though, as I felt the newsy aspect of the post-lunch programmes justified their appearance. I also decided to show a 15 minute news programme at 5.45pm, partly to fill an awkward gap after the film, partly because it was a fairly useful time for a news bulletin, and partly because I really liked the name Five News at Five Forty Five.

My weekdays were therefore more-or-less sorted. In the entertainment strand at 7pm I scheduled Fort Boyard, Greed, the new Desert Forges, The Pepsi Chart and on Fridays, a new entertainment magazine Watch Out Weekend, to replace Exclusive and The Movie Chart Show. At 8.30pm I had Jerry Springer and the existing series House Doctor and Chopper Coppers. To fill the gaps on Tuesdays and Fridays I revived the current affairs strand What’s The Story?, with a mandate to take a slightly tabloid, cheeky look at the latest events. This could also include the fast-turnaround documentaries on newsworthy personalities (Chris Evans, Michael Barrymore) that C5 have recently been screening.

Each strand would have its own name, if only for advertising purposes. The 7pm entertainment strand would be named “Fun on Five”, the 8pm factual programmes would be, of course, “Facts on Five”, and our new import strand at 9pm was “Fresh on Five”. Then we had “Films on Five” and “Five Alive” through the night, with Melinda and the late night sport, for which I revived the Live and Dangerous brand name. So on to the weekends.

The daytimes were probably the hardest to schedule, as I’d decided to drop the entire children’s output from the weekend. I didn’t really see the point of aping the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 during those days, but this did mean I had many more hours to fill than I would otherwise. I therefore decided to show some imports at breakfast, seeing that the audience at those times would clearly be very small. Thus The Love Boat still had a home on C5, albeit at 6am on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and it would be followed by Burke’s Law at 7am and Charlie’s Angels at 8am. Then at 9am I could actually schedule some proper new programming. On Saturday I decided to show a highlights package of the week’s US sport, again branded under Live and Dangerous, only this time obviously Not Live But Still Dangerous. I felt that this three-hour programme would let us get some more value from our portfolio of US sport – American Football, baseball, basketball and ice hockey – and please those fans who are early to bed. American Football seems to have been virtually invisible on our screens since C5 bought the rights a few years back, and this was an attempt to rectify the situation.

At 12 noon on Saturdays I showed back-to-back repeats of Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place, in an attempt to pick up an audience turning over from SM:TV and whatever BBC1′s new Saturday morning programme was. Then it was a rerun of The Pepsi Chart at 2pm, before the lunchtime Five News. Then at 2.40pm it was on to the omnibus edition of Home and Away. This did, of course, mean that each edition of Home and Away was broadcast three times, but now I’d changed the transmission pattern and scheduled the repeat on the same day as the first showing, there may have been more danger of viewers missing both screenings. Also C5 had spent a lot of money on it, and I had fond memories of my flatmate watching the Sunset Beach omnibus at the same time.

At 5pm I scheduled a family film, normally an old blockbuster, then I was rather unsure about my Saturday night schedule. I felt that entertainment was a no-no, as BBC1 and ITV are both showing big-budget light entertainment, so I ended up screening a repeat of Charmed. Then I wanted to keep the news on at 8pm seven days a week, and for half an hour, if only as I felt that a 15 minute bulletin was going to get in the way. As I wanted to get a schedule with almost everything starting on the hour and half hour, this seemed sensible. 8.30pm was more of a struggle, as I didn’t feel a factual programme was quite right, so I ended up placing imported entertainment – of the Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed ilk – here, and this would be the first bit I’d get rid of if the channel was ever given some more money.

At 9pm I had enough imports to keep “Fresh on Five” running all week, so Xena – Warrior Princess got an outing on a Saturday; I didn’t feel it deserved a weekday slot as they were repeats. The film stayed at 10pm, dovetailing, as on Friday, into an evening of movies. This is much like the current schedule, but the sequencing here would be more sophisticated; the films would normally have a theme, and there would be the chance to show all sorts of oddities. There’s probably room for a Confessions film here, but not until very late at night.

On Sundays, I had my three imports at breakfast time, and then at 9am it was time for religion. As we were committed to this, I placed it as early as I could get away with, but I felt a dedicated hour – dubbed “Faith on Five” – would be more appealing than the current situation where it floats all over the Sunday schedules. At 10am I showed an old movie, and then as on Saturday it was the 90210/Melrose Place double bill. At 2pm I decided to do something different, and get all the education and social affairs commitments over with in one go. Wideworld Live was to be a two-hour programme concentrating on community action. The main point of the programme would be to publicise various groups and what they do, but it doesn’t have to be very boring, it could be sort of amiable and feelgood. There could be space for people to make their own films, and we could fit a bit of religion in it as well. Basically, if C5 had to do this sort of stuff, they can at least make something of it, and put it all under a specific brand so people can find it or, of course, avoid it.

The Family Affairs omnibus would follow at 4pm, moving it away from the EastEnders omnibus and any Coronation Street omnibus that ITV were thinking of doing. I felt that since Home and Away was getting an omnibus, our home-grown soap should get identical treatment. This was to show that we were totally committed to quality imports and home-grown drama.

This was followed at 6.30pm by It’s A Knockout, a piece of shameless family entertainment that also provided further employment for C5-contracted celeb Keith Chegwin. On Sunday nights, though, I was wary of getting in a fight with BBC1 and ITV in the early evening, so at 7.30pm I scheduled World of Wildlife while Coronation Street was on the other side. Five News followed at, as usual, 8pm, then at 8.30pm I wanted to produce a sport programme. I partly revived the old Turnstyle format, and wanted the journalist Will Buckley to anchor a series where a panel of bitter old hacks could take a bitchy look at the weekend’s sport. It was to be outspoken and authoritative, and a nice way of filling this factual slot.

At 10pm, I wanted to show repeats of CSI and Angel, as two imports that had a loyal audience and were of good enough quality to deserve a repeat. I also set aside this slot on occasional Sundays for some new drama; I didn’t want to commission new returning series as I didn’t think they got much of an audience (see A Wing and a Prayer, Urban Gothic, and so on). Instead I wanted one-off drama, and stories that would fit into the youthful look of the channel; bland legal and medical sagas were out, and action packed thrillers were in. Then I had my Melinda compilation at midnight, and baseball at 12.30am. The last thing I had to sort out was 9pm.

My idea was that the import that would fill this slot would be aimed at a teenage/young adult audience, as a counterpoint to programmes like Heartbeat and London’s Burning on ITV. Dawson’s Creek seemed perfect for it, and I was therefore waiting for Channel 4 to get back to me. Unfortunately, when Ian did, he told me it had gone to somewhere else, as my scheduling of Home and Away “would have hurt C4 badly”. He offered up a range of teen programming, but nothing much I particularly fancied so I asked if I could have Party of Five or My So-Called Life. Ian offered up the former, so I swapped it for Daria, which I didn’t have the space for. Thus Party of Five filled my import slot on Sundays at 9pm and my week was complete.

So it was then time for the meeting, to present my line-up and see what the others thought of it. Would they be converted to C5′s qualities?

<Part One