Highs and lows of Channel 5's 20 years

Entertainment | Published:

British TV's fifth terrestrial channel burst on to our TV screens almost exactly 20 years ago – but with mixed fortunes over the past two decades.

The big launch starred the Spice Girls singing a rewritten version of Manfred Mann's hit 5-4-3-2-1 as 1-2-3-4-5 before presenters Tim Vine and Julia Bradbury introduced the nation to its newest channel with half an hour of previews.

Since then it has brought us some memorable TV. And to mark the milestone anniversary we've picked five reasons to celebrate the channel's two decades – plus five where it has failed to impress.

The Good:

Reality TV – Channel 5 is top dog when it comes reality TV. Bosses took a punt when they bid for former Channel 4 show Big Brother, which many thought had run its course. That was six years ago. This summer will see its spin-off, Celebrity Big Brother, return for a landmark 20th series. It is also been behind reality series such as The Farm, The Bachelor, Make Me A Supermodel and Back to Reality, featuring contestants from various reality shows under one roof.

Sport – It snatched the Football League contract from the BBC two years ago, seen by the League as a far better way to promote their product than the graveyard slot after Match of the Day. Recently it made its first foray into live cricket, showing five matches from Australia's Big Bash League.

The deal marked the sport's return to mainstream free-to-air broadcast for the first time since the 2005 Ashes.

Aussie Soaps – Neighbours is one of Channel 5's most popular programmes. In fact it's more popular in the UK than in its native Australia. The rights were acquired in 2007 - previously Neighbours was screened on BBC1. This was the second time UK networks had fought over an Australian soap, with Channel 5 also winning the rights to Home and Away. Every episode of the cult Aussie soap Prisoner Cell Block H was aired between 1997-2001.

Crime drama – The massively popular CSI (Crime Scene Investigation), starring Cheers' bartender Ted Danson, is a classic cop series based on the Las Vegas forensics lab, which has spawned a raft of imitations, including NCIS, which Channel 5 also screens. Gritty Brit drama Suspects has been a surprise hit for the channel. The no-nonsense police procedural, in which the actors keep it real by ad-libbing their dialogue, began in 2014 and has so far seen five series.


Fly-on-the-wall documentaries – Remember The Family? Back in 1974, Channel 4 screened the first observational-style documentary series to show the everyday lives, warts and all, of an ordinary family, the Wilkinses, paving the way for future series as diverse as Police Interceptors, Vet On Call and MPs: Behind Closed Doors, all broadcast by Channel 5, which has a big slice of this lucrative market.

And the not so good:

George Michael documentary – The Last Days of George Michael, aired by Channel 5 last week, was dubbed by the singer's former bandmate as 'sensationalist and mucky'. Andrew Ridgeley took to social media to criticise the show, saying the channel had been 'insensitive, contemptuous and reprehensible' and should have waited until after his friend's funeral.

Fans of the late singer called the programme 'pathetic', 'disrespectful' and 'utter trash' on Twitter. But Channel 5 said it was 'a measured account' of the former Wham star's life and death.


SuperCasino – You no longer have to leave your home to gamble – you can do it in the office, on the commute home or, thanks to Channel 5's SuperCasino, while you're eating your tuna pasta in front of the telly. Based on the game of roulette, it launched in April 2005 as Vegas 24/7 and now has 700,000 members. It can be seen every night of the week.

Soft porn – In 1998, the channel began to show more risqué late-night programmes such as Compromising Situations, Hotline and the controversially explicit Sex and Shopping. There followed a large increase in adult entertainment shown on the channel, sullying its reputation, so the level was scaled back. In its place came Naked Jungle, featuring a starkers Keith Chegwin as presenter, to mark the 50th anniversary of British naturism. Cheggers later admitted it was his biggest professional mistake.

Educational – The channel is not noted for its academic content. As a public service broadcaster, it is required to show a quota of news bulletins and educational programmes. Documentaries such as Hidden Lives, Revealed and Extraordinary People are examples of how the channel can do this well when it tries. In 2005, Channel 5 acquired the right to the prestigious Royal Institution Christmas Lectures.

The Farm – The channel attracted some controversy for the reality series which was taken off air after two series. The show, which revolved around celebrities working on a farm, featured such diverse figures as Lionel Blair, Lady Victoria Hervey, Keith Harris & Orville the duck and Cannock's own Stan Collymore.

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