Channel Five calls time in Yorkshire after accepting that there could be too many God’s Own counties on one TV channel.
The backcountry has provided some of the broadcaster’s biggest successes in recent years, with shows like Our Yorkshire Farm, The Yorkshire Steam Railway, Yorkshire Vet and a new edition of James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small Introducing record audiences.
However, Channel 5 editor-in-chief Daniel Pearl told the Edinburgh Television Festival he didn’t want to do “another program about Yorkshire, another program about a big family in Yorkshire” and said he was looking for different stories to tell.
Instead, highlight an upcoming series featuring Jay Blades, presenter of BBC’s The Repair Shop, remembering what it was like growing up in the 1970s in Hackney.
The change in focus shows how Channel 5 has changed since its launch in 1997. Its reputation as a low-market outlet was solidified when former Program Director Dawn Airey said its primary offering to audiences consisted of “Movies, football and fuck“.
More than two decades later, Channel 5’s show is best described as a “crime, country and roving caravan” as it commissioned more documentaries and dramas to appeal to the interests of central England.
The strategy has paid off, with ratings soaring during the shutdown. It has done particularly well among older audiences outside of London, who still consume huge amounts of linear TV and are less likely to spend their time watching streaming services like Netflix – although this has led to criticism that the channel’s production does not reflect modern Britain.
“We continue to defy all those who say linear television is dead,” said Channel 5 observer, Ben Fro. He plans to invest more in original dramas and documentaries, as well as steal the BBC’s Jeremy Fine Eggheads front-of-game show.
The station hopes to gain approval from media regulator Ofcom to combine its news output into a single hour-long program at 5 p.m. “One hour gives you more power to go deeper. I think we can make our news bigger and bolder and make it more presence,” Fro said.
He has described how his creative process often involved thinking about themes and then fusing them with celebrities, sometimes with Alan Partridge-esque findings.
An upcoming series came out featuring Pam Iris traveling around the Cotswolds because it’s “the only part of Britain that nobody did, and then Pam Iris just popped into my head.”
Other hit series features Paul Merton and Suki Webster drive camper vans around England. “Motorcycles are a very big part of our audience and then someone said Paul Merton loves to ride cars,” Fro said. “I thought he’d look down his nose at Channel Five.”
But he said a commission along those lines was a disaster. “Penguin A&E with Lorraine Kelly”. She has Penguins, she has A&E, and she has Lauren Kelly. Total failure. “