Channel 4 is back to pushing the boundaries again

Forget The Taste – Live from Space, Benefits Street, The Jump and two dramas on gay life from Russell T Davies could see C4 back to its controversial, entertaining self, says Mark Jefferies

Whisper it, but Channel 4 is showing signs it is getting back to its spiky old self this spring.


With its disastrous ratings for 2013, and The Taste losing nearly half its audience this week, you may think I have gone mad.

But there is evidence of improvement, some controversy and, most importantly, they have viewers at least choosing the channel on their remote.

In 2013 Channel 4’s share of the UK audience fell from 6.5% to 5.8%, in part due to bumper Paralympics audiences the previous year.

It also seemed to have a Come Dine With Me on almost every day and over Christmas there were too many repeats.

But one of the shows being most talked about for both the wrong and the right reasons this month is Benefits Street.

And whether you love or hate it, over five million tuned in this week to watch and it has sparked debate and controversy, arguably what C4 boss Jay Hunt’s remit should be.

On 26 January she will launch The Jump, a new celeb reality show based around winter sports. 

Think back eight or nine years to their series The Games, add some ice, tears and skiing and you will get the idea.

And The Jump promises to attract some viewers back to the channel before they screen the Paralympic Winter Games from Sochi, which also has real potential, judging from the audiences pulled in by the London Paralympic Games. 

On E4, brand new US drama The Tomorrow People has achieved the channel’s highest-rating launch ever, with its debut episode averaging 2 million viewers and a 7.3% share of the audience including catch-up viewing for the following week. 

And there is more drama to come, which should help push both boundaries and ratings.

Russell T Davies, the man who wrote Queer As Folk 15 years ago for Channel 4 and brought back Doctor Who, has two dramas, provocatively titled Cucumber and Banana, which will examine ”the passions and pitfalls of 21st-century gay life”.

And elsewhere the documentary team behind Educating Yorkshire will be back with another school series in a different county.

In March Channel 4 will screen a programme that will be genuinely groundbreaking and has potential to be incredible. 

Where else will you see Dermot O’Leary and Stephen Hawking sharing the screen as two-hour special Live from Space sees C4 and its viewers interact with astronauts on the International Space Station.

This is pushing the boundaries in exactly the way the channel should be.

I’ve managed to write this whole piece without mentioning the phenomenon that is Gogglebox. I expect more of you to be watching them watching TV.

So even if Nigella Lawson’s comeback isn’t to everyone’s taste, boss Jay Hunt seems to have a palatable menu for the coming months that should get Channel 4 talked about for the right reasons.

Mark Jefferies is showbiz editor at the Daily Mirror