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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK
Channel Five - 10 years young
By Keily Oakes
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

The fifth terrestrial TV channel Five launched with a fanfare 10 years ago - with band-of-the-moment The Spice Girls performing the countdown.

The Spice Girls
The Spice Girls launched the channel
A decade later it is no longer the baby of the TV scene, having been joined by hundreds of satellite and cable channels, forcing it to compete on many fronts.

Its schedules today are hardly recognisable from those of launch night - even its long-running soap Family Affairs bit the dust two years ago to release funds for drama and comedy.

Although it has not been performing as well in the ratings in recent times, it has managed to carve out its own identity, stealing a march on Channel 4 by buying up some of US TV's most critically acclaimed dramas, including CSI, House, Prison Break and Grey's Anatomy.

It even won Channel of the Year at the 2002 Edinburgh TV Festival - the first year the award was handed out.

Focus shift

But there were casualties along the way, most notably when it tried to poach viewers from other channels using a tried and trusted format.

Terry Wogan's return to TV was less than successful when he teamed up with Gaby Roslin for a daytime chat show, which ran for 200 episodes but failed to challenge the dominance of ITV's This Morning.

David Harrison
David Harrison sees the channel as being more balanced

And Chris Evans certainly lost his Midas touch when he launched Five's chat show, Live, with Chris Moyles as host. It received a critical mauling and was eventually pulled.

Its foray into reality TV with the likes of Back to Reality and The Farm have been less than auspicious - but then it is not alone in failing in this area, with the BBC also struggling to make inroads into the popularity of Big Brother and I'm a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!

Five's arts and documentary programming has gained strength, with its Extraordinary People strand among the highlights.

Five's director of knowledge, David Harrison, admits there has been a shift in focus since the channel's inception.

'Painful lesson'

"I think when we launched there was a degree of over-promising, we had to shout very loud to get heard and I think there was a suggestion that we made a hell of a lot of noise about not very much."

Five has had four chief executives in its short history - Ian Ritchie, David Elstein, Dawn Airey and now Jane Lighting - each bringing their own style to the channel.

Airey's tenure was seen as the downmarket era - including the infamous Naked Jungle which featured a nude Keith Chegwin.

"That was a painful but good lesson," says Mr Harrison of Naked Jungle, "that you can spend years creating a positive perception and positive portrayal of a channel and undo the work in half an hour."

Keith Chegwin
Naked Jungle was a low for Five - and Keith Chegwin
In 2002, the channel changed its name to just Five, as it attempted to shed its image of the home of low-budget gameshows, soft porn and obscure football matches.

"There's a lot still similar about the channel but with evolution it has become a more balanced and grown-up schedule," says Mr Harrison.

Despite being ranked the fifth of five most watched terrestrial channels, Five's director of programming, Lisa Opie, puts it more buoyantly.

"We're fifth in a market of 410 channels....and being fifth in the marketplace is in fact a tremendous achievement and a great position to be in."

The biggest change for Five was the introduction of its two digital channels in 2006 - Five Life and Five US - into an undeniably crowded marketplace. They have both fared considerably better on the Freeview platform than satellite so far.


And a new concept for Five is enabling viewers to pitch their own programme ideas to commissioners using the MySpace website - a trendy concept aimed at the younger generation.

Whether any of these ideas are actually picked up remains to be seen, but it echoes Five's new spirit of inclusiveness.

For Mr Harrison, personal schedule highlights over recent years have been Prison Break - "the epitome of must see TV" - and the Test Match highlights programme which it started after Channel 4 lost the live rights to Sky.

Prison Break
Prison Break has proved a critical hit for Five

"There was an assumption that 'oh my god, this has gone to Five. What sort of a mess are they going to make of it?'" he says.

"But far from making a mess it's just top notch, it's just so well produced and presented. It's been nominated for RTS sports awards."

As for his thoughts for the future?

"I like the idea of Five as the slightly mischievous but self-assured broadcaster moving on into the future, leaving that slightly confused area of all things to all people behind us, and just defining more tightly who we are, moving forward with confidence.

"There is still scope for growth and that is what is exciting. It's not as if we are operating absolutely at the limit of our audiences," continues Mr Harrison.

We can see things all over the schedule that still have scope for audience growth."

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