There is a certain logic to Channel 4’s decision, announced this
week, to mark Christmas and the channel’s 15th anniversary with the
first ever organised retrospective of past achievements. This is because
under new chief executive Michael Jackson it’s apparent that every
centimetre of the schedule is under scrutiny as the new team gets to
The decision, earlier this month, to ask for submissions on reinventing
and even shifting that tired old warhorse, Channel 4 News, is only one
symptom of the change underway. Jackson’s new head of drama, Gub Neal,
poached from Granada, is to switch the emphasis away from a few big
glossy series a year to add on new writers and more regular drama, with
new 26-week series paid for with an enhanced budget.
Film on 4, the channel’s jewel, is to have a new creative head, more
money to spend and a revised strategy to support risky and innovative
films, which may also include partnerships. David Brook, the former
marketing director of Channel 5, and before that, the Guardian has been
brought on board to beef up its image starting with the replacement of
those hopelessly vacuous circles which pass for a corporate identity.
The forthcoming Channel 4 digital film service desperately needs his
guidance onto the airwaves.
Rosemary Newell, the ex-BBC1 ace scheduler, and a crucial backroom
figure, is already installed at her Channel 4 desk, delighted the
channel’s simple structure allows for quick decision taking. Behind all
of this is the fact that Channel 4’s licence from the Independent
Television Commission is currently being renegotiated, for introduction
in January. The policy, laid by culture and media secretary Chris Smith,
is meant to ensure it becomes more of a public service station, in
exchange for the privilege of being able to boost its programme schedule
dramatically with the ending of the ’funding formula’ insurance payments
As Jackson says, some of the new conditions are ’pretty ambitious’. It
has to bump up production from the regions to 30 per cent by 2002, make
sure its peak time programming consists of 70 per cent originally
commissioned material, drastically cut repeats, while more generally
reviving its mission to be different. But his desire, to have the
channel make the programmes which make an impact, does not mean ratings
will go down. The general rule of thumb is that the more you spend on
your programme budget, the more viewers turn up. This is why the new
Mark Booth-led team at BSkyB is investing hard in Sky One.
This is something bothering ITV, whose executives are busily lobbying to
tie Channel 4 down hand and foot. When I went to the recent Channel 4
launch to advertisers, it was held in a nightclub decked out as a
I wonder what Chris Smith would have made of that?