Last Night's TV: What's the point of Channel 5

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Posted on: 27 April 2011 by Alexander Hay

Pondering the purpose of the UK's most superfluous terrestial channel

As spring continues to be sprung and the brightness of the sun illuminates the land, one might be lulled into complacency and perhaps even forget the most pressing question of our time - why is Channel 5 still on the air?

It can't make that much money. ITV and Channel 4 have all the shows that have audiences (and advertisers) chattering away intently, and the BBC broadcasts most of the programmes that kids talk about in the playground the next day.

Channel 5's line-up last night, however, was pretty typical. A cavalcade of fail, in fact, with highbrow programmes like OK! TV (plugging the channel owners' down-market 'sleb mag), Extraordinary Dogs (not to be confused with Mediocre Dogs or even Dogs That Are Simply Not Trying Hard Enough), 'William and Kate: The Story So Far' (can you wait for the sequel when Wills reveals his true shape-shifting reptilian form and Kate admits she's actually a drag act from Staines?) and lots of CSI episodes. Lots and lots and lots. That's a lot of dried bodily fluids and ballistic reports for one evening.

Needless to say, this is hardly going to keep the media sales team in gruel, let alone commission.

Remember, they're up against EastEnders and Coronation Street, and in this multi-channel age, bored viewers can also go watch a classic Martin Shaw chest hair sequence on ITV 4 or something simultaneously outré and compelling on BBC 4 involving House Martins or syphilis.

Would-be viewers aren't short of things they could be doing instead: they could be watching a DVD or perhaps even doing something that involves other human beings. In other words, there's very little on Channel 5 that makes you want to watch it.

There are, of course, exceptions. Late night UFC cage fighting is fun if you're drunk and 5's kids' TV section Milkshake acquires a certain bitter meaning when you're up at 7.02 am with a hangover. Peppa Pig makes you want a bacon sandwich, and so on.

But the news coverage is take-it-or-leave-it and the main reason why Neighbours and Home & Away is on 5 and not BBC 1 or ITV is because the last two channels realised those shows were nearing Crossroads-esque audience levels.

They don't even show good films like Film4 does. Much like Prince Edward, you do actually wonder if the channel serves much of a purpose other than meeting the adage that Nature Abhors A Vacuum.

Or perhaps it's another excuse for former Asian Babes publisher Richard Desmond to demonstrate his genius for the second rate. He owns a naff version of The Daily Mail (The Express), a naff version of The Sun (The Star), a naff porn channel (they're simply not trying with that free 5-minute preview at midnight any more), and with Channel 5, he gets to own a naff version of ITV1. And soon, C5 will be showing a naff reanimated-corpse version of Big Brother. It takes passion and verve to be this mediocre.

But ask yourself this question – when was the last time you went out of your way to watch Channel 5? It's not even a solution in need for a problem. It's just a cavalcade of lights and sound broadcasting to no one in particular.

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Alexander Hay

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