C5: 12noon – 6pm

By Graham Kibble-White

First published April 2000

5 News at Noon features Rob Butler at the helm. It is an evenly-judged bulletin, which benefits little from the once-vaunted C5 house style (there’s still no desk) but does the job. A shooting in the US of a fireman attending a blaze is covered, the reporter Tim Wilcox, expanding a little to take in some discussion of gun law in America. But it’s with a story about a magistrate berating Romanian refugees for begging in Britain that C5 shows some teeth. Butler interviews Lyndall Sachs from the UN High Commission for Refugees and rattles her a little with some devil’s advocate statements, particularly when he postulates it’s “an unpleasant phenomenon, especially those who are brandishing babies.” Sentiments perhaps more appropriate to The Sun, but perhaps that’s where the C5 audience is at? There is a light item based on the Pulling Power story trailed at breakfast, featuring a jocular report from Peter York low on journalistic content.

This is followed by a repeat of last night’s Family Affairs. Aside from the evening news, this is the channel’s flagship programme and has been since 5′s launch. A weekday soap that was initially based around the activities of the Hart family, coming back to the series for the first time since its early days it’s difficult to see quite what the hook is now (the Harts being long since dispatched in an exploding canal barge). The titles and theme music have received quite a makeover, twitchy and sophisticated implicitly advising us that Family Affairs has got tougher, it’s more “real”. But actually the innards of the programme are just the same. Glossy pretty people dealing with mildly challenging dilemmas. Unusually, however, the usual soap archetypes do not seem to be present. Where is the bad guy, the buffoon and the sex-bomb? One can at least identify the tragicomic character who in Family Affairs is Sadie – currently fallen for a bogus suitor she has only “met” via e-mail, unaware that he is actually the product of some pranking youngsters. Family Affairs is diversionary TV that seems to be aimed at the same demographics as Neighbours (it’s certainly scheduled in a similar fashion). Entertaining enough, but ultimately disposable.

After another 5 News bulletin, this time with Mark Jordan, we’re back into US import territorywith The Oprah Winfrey Show. Oprah has become the archetype for a certain strand of TV; the confessional, self-help based talk show. The credits feature images of affirmation, people hugging, tears of joy – scenes plucked from that same slim repertoire of “The Human Experience” that Leeza plunders.

And in fact, today’s episode is built solely around peaks of affirmation, featuring none of the sagaciousness we would normally expect to encounter (an aspect of talk shows Oprah is now trying to distance herself from). The subject under discussion is glibly termed as “the need to please”, basically women (seemingly this affects mainly females) who are unable to express their own opinions. Oprah interviews psychologist Jan Ferris about this disorder and takes testimony from sufferers, eliciting a few more punch-the-air moments eking out the possibility that they benefited from being on the programme and provoking spurts of applause from the studio audience.

Before closing we have a filmed insert entitled “Remembering Your Spirit”. This appears to be a regular slot on the show, a one-minute affirmative (that word again) story based on the experiences of one of Oprah’s viewers. Today’s tale is of a woman who, after losing her mother, realised she should live life to the full. And that’s it. Tears and happiness in a slight and pappy tale, patronisingly female-centric. Almost a mission statement for The Oprah Winfrey Show.

100 Per Cent is another long-time C5 programme. The format is the gimmick here. Three contestants answer 100 questions put to them by the disembodied voice of Roger Housten – the quiz show stripped of the rhetoric of personality. With no physical host, it’s all about the questions. Although one should commend C5 for coming up with a purist’s take on the genre, the result is a programme that seems to keep its distance. For the viewer to feel involved, we must in some way get to know the players but devoid of any personality, 100 Per Cent is simply a rattle of statistics which mean very little. Over the end credits the continuity announcer implores us to “play along on our website” – perhaps the only way to take a stake in the fate of 100 Per Cent.

Channel 5 has few faces that can be identified with it. Whereas Channel 4 has Graham Norton and the BBC Charlie Dimmock, who is the face of C5? Now that Kirsty Young has departed, perhaps it’s Gloria Hunniford who fulfils this role. Open House with Gloria Hunniford is another magazine programme designed to service the housewife – a sort of Pebble Mill hangover, set in a mock house. Everything is desperately non-threatening down to Hunniford herself who never threatens to be too witty or interesting (aside from her plasticky, blonde, claw-like hair do). The first item is a study into the cost of residential care for the elderly, backed up by testimony from a financial expert and member-of-the-public Marion White who experienced terrible problems financing her parents’ care. This is relevant and commendable in that Hunniford doesn’t try and mine the story for emotional cadence. The programme’s leisurely pace works well here, in that this isn’t an issue that is shunted off after merely a toe-dip.

After the break, Una Stubbs joins the programme to promote her current play “at the Lyric in Hammersmith”; followed by the regular travel guide section which covers Rome by means of a few photos – an embarrassingly cheap and worthless segment. De rigueur for magazine programmes is the phone-in element, which at the very least reaffirms Open House is live. Today, calls are taken on this issue of residential care. This time, there’s none of the leisurely gait and it’s all over and done with before we’ve even really begun. A wishy-washy number from the current run of Phantom of the Operaand that’s it. Exhibiting little by the way of conviction, over an hour of this stuff leaves one grasping for the point of the whole exercise.

After a 5 News Update (Mark Jordan again) it’s time for the afternoon “matinee” 92 Grosvenor Street. This is a cheesy “made for TV” feature, a TVS (remember them?) and MTM co-production starring Hal Holbrook and the very talented David McCallum whose apparent lack of critical faculties makes him ripe for appearances in tripe of this nature. Although set during World War II, 92 Grosvenor Street positively reeks of the ’80s with a title sequence snatched from Dynasty - cameos of each actor accompanied by their credit. Thus we have the jovial fellow having his hat waggishly pulled down over his eyes, the expected quota of snogging and the butler peeping through the keyhole all accompanied by a synthesised “orchestral” score. C5 specifically refer to this afternoon slot as the matinee, presumably in an effort to make sure it is not in anyway associated, and therefore able to contaminate our perceptions, of the beefier evening movie.

We’re back with 5 News at 5.20pm, with Andrea Catherwood now doing the honours; then it’sthe Queen Jukebox - our chance to vote for our favourite Queen song to be played on Sunday’s Queen Day on C5. “Every time you vote gives you another chance to win that unique Queen CD!” we are told. Calls cost no more than 30p.

Another quiz show, One to Win, is more traditional than 100 Per Cent, in that it is presided over by BBC Choice’s Paul Rossby. The format here is that four contestants are gradually whittled down to the one winner by means of different rounds. The stakes are low, with One to Windocument bags and Encarta CD ROMs up for grabs, alongside the usual cash prizes. And Rossby is no Bob Monkhouse. His getting-to-know-you chat with the contestants is rather stilted, and as the rounds get faster his delivery often stumbles, giving the whole thing a rather rough and ready hue. However, it has a feckless sort of charm and we are given every chance to empathise with the contestants. Alongside that, the winner is afforded the opportunity to come back the next day to compete again, thereby giving us a tangible hook into tomorrow’s programme.

  <6am – 12noon