||UK's Live TV, wacky cable
at its best, pulls the plug
Topless darts, stripping stock tipster
By Simon Bond
The closure of cable station Live TV, announced last
week, marks the end of one of the braver attempts to bring original programming to the
otherwise bland offerings of multi-channel TV in the UK.
However, before we get too deep into our wake for the channel
that bought us stammering news presenters, a stripping stock tipster called Tiffany,
trampolining dwarves, and a bikini-clad weather forecaster who delivered her bulletin in
Norwegian, it is important to remember that at best Live scored just over 1 per of a cable
audience that has yet to exceed 4 million homes.
Rarely has so much been said about a television station that was
watched by so few. From its launch in 1995, Live TV was rarely out of the headlines.
Despite the wealth of publicity, the slow progress of cable acceptance
in the UK finally bled the station dry and the Trinity Mirror group, which owns the
station, has made the decision to close Live down.
Sobriety and financial good sense has finally won the day over the
self-promotion and sensationalism that was the basis of the channel's launch back in 1995.
At the time, three of the most colorful figures in the UK media industry
conspired to launch Live.
David Montgomery, who had left News Corp. in 1992 to run the
competing Mirror Group of newspapers, put his weight behind the channel as a foil to
Rupert Murdoch's expanding pay-TV empire.
Janet Street-Porter, who had been the high priestess of youth television at
the BBC, was brought in to run Live, which it is claimed she envisaged as "Hello!
magazine on acid."
Finally, Kelvin MacKenzie, the former editor of Rupert Murdoch's
best selling UK tabloid The Sun, was enlisted to provide his own style of populism and
"cunning stunts" to keep the channel in the news.
This heady mixture of personalities soon proved
itself to be totally unworkable.
Following a series of clashes with MacKenzie that were well
documented in a no-holds-barred, fly-on-the wall documentary about the channel's launch,
Street-Porter walked out. Street-Porter's career then followed a tortuous path, but she
has now settled in the editor's seat of the Independent on Sunday newspaper.
Following Street-Porter's departure from Live, MacKenzie was able
to steer the channel according to his own uniquely tabloid agenda.
In January 1996, he launched "Topless Darts," the programming
strand for which Live will go down in history for creating. The showing of bare chested
women playing darts attracted huge publicity but did little to improve audience
ratings,which remained constrained by the channel's limited cable distribution.
The continuing frustration with getting an audience for Live
eventually proved too much for MacKenzie, and after a brief stint as deputy chief
executive of the Mirror Group he also left the channel to set up his own company and
successfully bid for Talk Radio, the national station which he runs today.
Ironically, after years of its balance sheets hemorrhaging red
ink, Live recently announced that it had finally turned the corner towards profitability.
However, it was already too late as far as its owners at the
Trinity Mirror group were concerned and they condemned the channel as a "non-core
Trinity Mirror is now reported to be in advanced negotiations
with the UK's leading cable operator, NTL, which are interested in buying the channel for
around $30 million in order to exploit its carriage contracts.
For viewers, the closure will mean little as so few had the
opportunity to watch the channel in the first place.
But for the TV industry it may be some time before we can enjoy the
spectacle of such an explosive mixture of personalities combined in a TV channel again.
-Simon Bond writes from outside of London.