Fern show shakes up teatime TV

Changes to the viewing schedule always provoke controversy, as Channel 4 found out when it replaced Come Dine With Me with new chat show Fern.

On set: New teatime show Fern
On set: New teatime show Fern

Hosted by Fern Britton, the show is billed as a teatime all-rounder, with celebrity, real life, cookery and news all in the mix.

But instead of hailing it as Britain's answer to Oprah, PR professionals are sceptical about the future of the show.

Although he says it is a good way to reach a mainstream audience, Braben PR director James Matheson warns: 'Whether the show will stick around after the end of April is another matter.'

As Fern reached the end of its month-long trial period, at the time of writing, media reports suggested its future was uncertain, due to disappointing ratings. Indeed, many PR professionals say the show is not on their target media lists.

Executive producer Amanda Ross is optimistic about the show's future. She concedes: 'I knew it was going to be a difficult time for any programme to launch. It's a family-led show beginning at the same time as the Easter holidays.'

But Ross believes that Britton was an inspired choice of presenter: 'The key to that slot is finding a presenter who can cover anything and everything so the mood of the show can change. Fern listens properly and is very approachable.

'From a PR perspective, your guests go on an intelligent show with in-depth interviews. It's a vehicle for proper adult chat, where I thought there was a gap in the market.'

The show's format is flexible, changing each day depending on the guests. This means all sorts of issues can be covered. Ross encourages PROs to 'pitch anything you think people will want to talk about and think is interesting'.

Guests do not make a five-minute appearance; they stay on throughout the hour-long episode. Ross says: 'We try to plug products in a less obvious and more entertaining way so the plugs are more powerful.'

Some PROs do see the show as a useful outlet. Hotwire CEO Brendon Craigie says: 'For clients that are looking for product placement opportunities, this is certainly a show on the radar.'

Braben's Matheson adds: 'While it is not going to win any broadcast awards, Fern is an old pro at interviewing and the show is a great avenue for PROs to promote their clients' latest projects.

'It attracts an impressive calibre of guests and the interviews are long, which means you have more time to get your messages across. This is a key outlet to reach a mainstream audience.'

And Britton had a smart response to Come Dine With Me viewers' moans about the show being replaced: Come-Dine-With-Me-on-the-Fern-show - a segment where memorable contestants cook their signature dish and guests from that day judge it.


Latest viewing figures: 935,000 (source: Channel 4)

Show time: 5pm, Mon-Fri

Contact: firstname.surname@cactustv.co.uk

Assistant editor: Juliet Bacon

Head of news: Michele Bowker

Head of entertainment: Charlotte Johnstone


Describe your viewers

The average viewer is a 47-year-old housewife with children who really likes books, intelligent chat and wants an update on human-interest news stories.

What opportunities are there for PROs to gain coverage?

Pitch everything at us because we try to link items in with guests. We can cover everything from frivolity to serious health issues. The biggest opportunities are with celeb guests, but anything and everything goes.

What should a PRO not do?

Send copies of books to my house. It's really disappointing when you go to the collection office and you've ordered things from Amazon and it's just a book. I think it's unprofessional. Work is work and home is home.

What will not make it in?

Anything that's boring and would make people switch off. Serious politics. It's a busy time for our audience, mainly mums, so they want to be diverted and not lectured at.

When is the best time to get in touch?

We are a daily live show, so we have to be available at all times, by phone or email, but it's best to avoid weekends. We can turn things around on the morning of a show, but it would be nice to have a couple of days' notice.

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