Media: A Moment with Marquis

The Channel 4 gods have spoken. And, in doing so, revealed that they have forgotten what makes their channel special.

Sir Michael Bishop, Vanni Treves and Sir Jeremy Isaacs, respectively former chairmen and the founding chief executive of Channel 4, have called for the reality TV hit Big Brother to be scrapped.

Theirs are voices of integrity and experience that demand respect. It is difficult to overstate the towering achievements of Sir Jeremy. He stamped his impeccable credentials on the new channel when it first came to our screens 22 years ago. Under his stewardship, Channel 4 created genuinely different television: programmes of unusual freshness, scheduled into a package that quickly became a distinctive brand.

Big Brother is not to everyone's liking. Indeed, few programmes polarise taste so sharply - televisual Marmite, if you like. But it is undeniably in step with prominent aspects of 21st century popular culture: it's voyeuristic, celebrity-mad, participatory and - this probably grates with the channel's gods most of all - downright vulgar.

Let's be honest, the last Big Brother series went a bit over the top and choosing to screen a booze-fuelled brawl on live TV was undoubtedly a lapse of judgment. Ofcom was probably right to administer a sharp rap.

But then each series has had to ratchet up the shock value because viewers bore easily.

But Big Brother's strength, and indeed the reason why it meets Channel 4's remit fair and square, is that it is a pioneer. It worries the rule-makers and offends the good and the great. It serves up the human condition in all its glory and horror.

Would Charles Dickens not have approved of Big Brother? He would surely have appreciated the ragged emotion, the hope and despair, the furtive alliances, the deceits, the loves and the hates.

I'm no great fan myself, though I confess I get swept along with it like everyone else. My viewing preferences may not be all that dissimilar to Sir Jeremy's, but he should be careful not to confuse personal distaste with high-mindedness. Viewer habits and expectations have changed dramatically since the 80s, not least because Channel 4 is now but one choice out of hundreds of channels, rather than out of four. Big Brother may be abrasive, intrusive, abusive and occasionally repulsive, but Channel 4 would never have become such a critical and commercial success without being all those things right from day one, when Sir Jeremy ruled the roost.

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