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
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
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
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
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
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,