Thompson admits C4 over-relied on sex to boost ratings

LONDON - As Channel 4 unveiled its winter schedule packed with new drama, chief executive Mark Thompson admitted that the station had replied too heavily on sex to boost ratings in the past.

Revealing the schedule, which includes 'Shameless', Paul Abbott's seven-hour series based on his childhood experiences growing up on a Manchester housing estate, Thompson said that the station had lacked innovation in its drama programming, leading to lazy choices.

"We have fewer than half the number of programmes with a strong sexual theme than a year ago. They are a legitimate and proper part of the mix, but now we have rather less of them," he said. "We have just got to be careful about making lazy, cynical choices."

The schedule includes 'No Angels', a 10-part series about young nurses in Leeds from the makers of 'This Life' and 'Cardiac Arrest', and 'Omagh', a real-life drama from 'Bloody Sunday' writer Paul Greengrass.

Other new series build on Channel 4's success with the reality format. 'The Regency House Party' will give aspiring Darcys and Elizabeth Bennetts the chance to live according to the social protocols of the period, and endurance event 'Shattered', from 'Big Brother' producer Endemol, will see contestants compete to spend seven days awake to win a cash prize.

Channel 4 will also be launching two new current affairs strands, and two controversial films: 'Breaking Point', showing how the social services system deals with families in crisis, and 'Flesh and the Devil', exploring sexuality, celibacy and the Catholic church.

Other new factual programmes will include 'Gay Parents to Be', a "frank look at the trials and tribulations of four gay and lesbian couples trying to make babies".

From November 5, teen soap 'Hollyoaks' goes five nights a week, while the last episode of 'Brookside' will run next Tuesday.

The final series of 'Frasier', 'Sex and the City' and 'Friends' will also be broadcast this season, although there is new homegrown comedy in the shape of 'Garth Marenghi', set in a hospital in Romford.

Thompson said: "Channel 4's had brilliant one-offs and mini-series over the years, but our reputation for innovation in drama has never consistently matched that in entertainment and factual. We're confident that 'Shameless' and 'No Angels' represent the start of a purple patch for Channel 4 drama."

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