Channel 4 excels in innovative programming

Since their launch in 1982, Channel 4 have forged a reputation for pushing boundaries in their choice of programming. Created as an alternative to ITV and BBC channels they are publicly owned and commercially funded, allowing them more creative scope with an aim to being ‘innovative, experimental and distinctive.’

Over the years they have continued to produce and broadcast ground breaking television, gaining 11.6 million viewers in the 16-34 bracket.

With gritty realist programmes such as Shameless and Skins charting the struggle of living and growing up within the recession and documentary/ investigative programmes such as embarrassing bodies and dispatches.

This year has really made an impact with reality based drama such as The Mill and Southcliffe. And society focused drama such as Blackout and Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror series.

Historical drama series The Mill at first looked like a typical BBC production, telling the story of workers in a 19th century cotton mill in the North of England. Research for the three part drama came from a collection of original journal entries from the mill workers. Channel 4 producers decided to give these workers real voices and the programme an authenticity, filming it on location in the abandoned mill in Chesire. Gritty scenes of a machine accident, the sexual abuse of a female worker added the dark atmosphere that the channel is known for.

Southcliffe, a debut for channel 4, by award winning writer Toni Grissoni seems to parallel the true story of Derrick Bird who went on a shooting rampage in 2010 insussex. Set from different view points (chiefly that of journalist David Whitehead returning to his home town) and developing over four episodes, Southcliffe tells the story of a small market town in England, devastated by a rogue shooting. Throwing us straight into the action, with gun shots breaking the dawn silence, the scenes remain fragmented throughout, echoing the chaos and drama as the story unfolds.

Camera shots are unsteady, out of focus and away from direct action, limiting what we see and hear like many of the characters. This also suggested a voyeuristic element to our viewing.

Blackout was advertised in the style of channel 4’s dispatches programmes: an investigative look into a modern society concern. But the programme actually appeared to be going much further than this, and dramatising a future that is very possible.  Combining real life footage of black out events with fictional scenes to explore what life might be like if Britain lost power.

Initial annoyance, excitement and confusion leads to fear, panic and desperation.  The programme follows several characters: A mum and her daughter who must get to Nan’s house, a family whose self sufficiency might cost them, brother and sister who get caught in an accident. And opportunists who use the event to benefit themselves.

Black out is a highly tense and thought provoking drama which makes you realise how much our nation depends on power to live. I wondered if there would be a rise in the sale of torches, gas stoves and generators after watching this. It made me question the line between exploring ideas and causing panic. After all, panic is a natural reaction when routine is questioned. Are these type of programmes just harmless entertainment or serious concerns for our future?

Charlie Brooker’s second Black mirror series pushes this idea further. Exploring the public’s obsession with social media and technology it projects societies concerns at their most extreme. Is the outspoken Guardian columnist imagining a world that is, in the future, quite possible?

A modern Frankenstein, ‘Be right back’ imagines a future where human science meets artificial intelligence and explores the inevitable consequences of meddling with the dead. Could we really reach a point where we never have to live without a loved one? Is it ethical and moral to allow a grieving widow to hold on to her husband through tricks of science and technology?

‘White bear’ explores the justice system. A girl must repeat a groundhog style day of fear, humiliation to pay for her crimes. The public watch and film her on mobile phones every day, making us question the extent to which a social media obsessed nation would go for entertainment. Could reality tv and interactive gaming really reach these sick heights? How much of the justice system do the public have control over?

‘The Waldo Moment’ is a satirical look at the fickle world of politics. Waldo is a blue bear from a children’s television programme and a weekly news show. Somehow he gets embroiled into a political debate and fast becomes the nation’s favourite. But romance with a labour party hopeful complicates matters further. This episode really questions the purpose and effectiveness of politics in modern society. What’s happened to people’s faith in politicians and the political system? Is it really possible to infiltrate this world so easily? And is it being used for it’s true purpose in deciding what’s best for the country?

Charlie Brooker is channel 4’s man of the moment, with his finger firmly on the pulse, he has created a niche of programming which takes observations and fears and twists them into powerful dramas which speak to a modern viewer. Black mirror is clever, original and at times quite unsettling.

A new programme aired this week, studying the effects of video gaming in the twenty first century. I am yet to watch this but imagine it will be an intelligent incite into the mass media influence.

With such sucess with their choice of programming, it’s natural to question what might be next on channel 4’s agenda. Hopefully more innovative and exploratory programmes which continue to push boundaries and observe the changing society in which we live. Recent channel 4 teasers ‘Born Risky’ suggests that they are continually focused on their original target and they’re far from finished yet.