HEADLINER: End-of-pier-type Live TV chief capitalises on local potential - Kelvin MacKenzie is lewd, rude and can bring in the punters

It’s Saturday afternoon and Nina is looking for a man. 'I like them tall and dark, nice smile. I want fun and excitement, someone I can have a close friendship with', writes Claire Beale.

It’s Saturday afternoon and Nina is looking for a man. ’I like them

tall and dark, nice smile. I want fun and excitement, someone I can have

a close friendship with.’

It’s Live TV’s Looking for Love show and I can almost hear Kelvin

MacKenzie, the channel’s executive director, cackling in the background,

advising Nina to go for dosh and a good shag.

After Nina comes a bouncing dwarf telling me it’s hot, hot, hot outside,

and Agony (Alex is living with blonde twins and just can’t choose

between them - the counsellor advises a threesome).

This is unpretentious, colourful and, yes, crude entertainment. That

MacKenzie also fits this bill is no surprise. The man is known for his

lewd humour, his rude tongue and for his ability to appeal to the

ordinary geezer. ’Kelvin’s a bit like a whoopee cushion - end-of-pier

funny, mildly offensive, embarassing and full of hot air,’ one former

colleague laughs.

Then again, may I remind you that this is a legend we’re talking about,

an icon of modern media, a big dollop of talent. He’s the man behind

those infamous Sun headlines, ’Freddie Starr ate my Hamster’, ’Gotcha!’,

etc, the news bunny and topless darts. Whether you’re a fan of Norwegian

weather forecasts or not, you’ve probably heard about them, as well as

lunchbox volleyball, pay-to-view and all the other jolly Live japes.

Let’s face it - this is one smart bloke, albeit a barking mad one.

MacKenzie makes for an unusual interviewee. Fucks and shags are not the

standard lexicon of the Campaign interview, and rarely do I come away

armed with tips on where to find myself an eligible millionaire. But

MacKenzie delivers and we have some fun.

At times, he’s like a chat show guest, slipping into a pre-polished

routine.

It’s not long before he sees an opening to bring up Janet Street-Porter,

infamously a former Live TV colleague. A merciless impression is

followed by a biting satire on her fourth marriage. Street-Porter, it

seems, swears as much as MacKenzie himself.

As if purged, MacKenzie is now ready to get on to the serious stuff,

which is, I nudge him, Live TV and its continuing expansion around the

country.

Live has just launched in Manchester. No, it’s not going to give Granada

any trouble - ratings for its sister stations in London, Birmingham,

Liverpool and Edinburgh are, let’s be polite, modest.

But scrumming with the big boys is not MacKenzie’s game. ’Cable

television is not trying to replicate mainstream TV,’ he insists.

’People don’t watch cable in the same way. They dip in, stick around for

a bit, dip out. They’re not there all the time so you don’t have to be

original all the time.’

Live TV’s franchise is ’think local, act local,’ Mackenzie says.

If he’s got his sights set on competition, then it’s with the regional

media, with the local newspapers and with the regional TV stations’

local advertiser base.

Live has just done a deal to put the personal ads from the

multi-regional classified paper, Loot, on to its text service, a clear

signal of the commercial potential of this local franchise. ’We want to

develop our text sites so they become the equivalent of an electronic

local newspaper and this is the first step,’ MacKenzie explains.

’There’s a great media fusion going on that will change people’s lives.

This is one small step towards that.’

But what can Live offer the big TV spot advertiser? Not very much, if

the station’s current crop of advertisers are anything to go by - the ad

breaks are the twilight zone of advertising where you can spend some

happy hours playing spot the famous brand.

MacKenzie says the real opportunity for advertisers on Live is to sell

the products that are in the local stores and to bring in the sort of

double-glazing clients who have previously not been able to afford TV

advertising. ’We guarantee we’ll be cheaper than any other medium,’

MacKenzie boasts, then worries momentarily that he’s being a little

rash. Plans are also under way to lobby the Independent Television

Commission to give the channel an extra five minutes an hour of

commercial airtime.

The problem is, Live TV is a big brand name waiting for a big brand,

just as MacKenzie is a big name waiting to do it justice once again. He

insists that publishing is behind him - ’I did it for 30 years and I

really wanted to learn something new’ - and does his best to sound

evangelical about TV. At least he’s happier at Live than he was at

BSkyB - his first taste of television - where he lasted only a matter of

months.

When it comes down to it, though, Live TV must seem a bit like driving a

Reliant Robin after years in a Mercedes. And you can’t help feeling that

MacKenzie can do better than that.

The MacKenzie file

1972        The Sun, sub-editor,

            rising to night editor

1978        New York Post, editor

1981        Daily Express, editor

1981        The Sun, editor

1994        BSkyB, managing director

1994        Mirror Group Television,

            executive director

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