Gender agenda

Women’s programmes outdated ghettos, or valuable airtime for suppressed viewpoints? Tom Lappin talks to Channel 4 commissioning editor Caroline

Spry about F irst Sex.

A couple of years ago. the ‘women's programme‘ as a TV concept was (prematurely as it turns out) declared dead. A relic of the early days of Channel 4 when the pre-Grade station was still sticking to its remit of being ‘minority‘ and didn't have to sell its own ads. the right-on women‘s magazine show was

one of many contractual obligation productions

swiftly consigned to a tiny-audience ghetto.

Shows like the execrablc thIlt‘ll The Woman with Jenny Lecoat pleased neither the channel schedulers nor the audience who found little that was inspirational and plenty that was im'tating in its mix of knee-jerk irreverence and shoddy reportage.

You get the impression that the advent of ‘post- feminism' (however mythical a concept that might be) came as a huge relief to channel chiefs who could justify their dislike of the format by claiming to be representing women‘s issues across the schedule rather than in their own programme once a week. The fact that this ideal state of affairs is still far from achieved is perhaps acknowledged by the creation of First Set“. the pilot for a new series ‘made by women for women‘. Post-post feminism begins here.

First Sex has been commissioned by Channel 4's Caroline Spry. who was also responsible for the innovative and accessible ()u! series of lesbian and gay programmes. Unsurprisingly. it follows ()ut‘s

one line on any issue.‘

on the situation in Bosnia.

.mix of magazine and documentary approaches. ‘Wr‘ve a number ofelements to it.‘ says Spry. ‘lt‘s kind of multiple input really. In the first halfthere are a number of different strands. relatively topical. newsy and cultural reports and also a kind of one- minutc polemic. The idea with that is to get new. young women filmmakers working in a visually interesting style to do a one-minute short polemic about an issue. just a straightfoward argument for

Subjects tackled in the pilot include a report on computer games for girls. women in film and the Zero Tolerance anti-violence campaign in Edinburgh. It's in the second half of the programme though that First Sex comes into its own. with an in-dcpth investigation into the issue of rape in war. focusing

‘That's a subject that is fully deserving of investigation and widespread coverage.‘ says Spry, ‘and yet it‘s not an issue that the big current affairs

series like Wm the airtime tha

from the main

Channel 4.‘ sh

in a late-night crumbling just format fora se

an extent on ht is satisfactory. series in W94. First Sex is on HOS/mt.

'Id In Action have covered. despite all This omission of a news story important to women

feels. l’irsi .S'e.r‘s best mismz (I 'em'. ‘There is still an ambivalent attitude to women's programmes at

whether it‘s justified to treat women‘s issues in that way. But I think with reports like the one on Bosnia. it‘s an argument that's very easy to counter.‘

That said. First Sex is still only a pilot. and shown

says. ‘l think it does. but obviously it does depend to

First Sex: made by women for women I they may have given to the war.‘

agenda ofTV current affairs is. Spry

c admits. ‘therc is still that question of

slot at that. The resistance isn't yet. ‘When you come up with a new rics you have to see if it works.‘ Spry

)w it is received.‘ lfaudience reaction the go-ahead should be given for a

Channel 4 on Sunday 20 June at

:— Strictly Ballroom

llere they come, faster and more desperate than a Cabinet reshuffle. Music shows are very thick on the

ground at the moment, what with Jools

Holland’s Later, Channel 4’s Sound Stuff, and BBC Scotland’s less-than- tempestuous llo Stilettos. The diversity of music coverage is unprecedented, although the quality of the productions is as erratic as the music itself and realists might also

say their proliferation is to do with the

shows’ inherent cheapness, with record companies queueing up to

assist producers willing to give vital exposure to the latest signings.

Channel 4 add to the melee on Friday 18 June with a late-night mix of interviews, performances and videos corralled under the heading of The Electric Ballroom. Filmed in Dublin’s famed Clarence Hotel (owned by the Irish beat foursome 02), the show promises to feature some of the more eclectic talents on the indie end of the rock spectrum plus the more innovative dance acts.

‘The series will focus on the cutting edge of contemporary music,’ says producer David Heiferrnan. ‘We’re presenting a wide range of music, everything from rap to rock, from blues to hip-hop. Diversity is central to living in the 90s and music on television should reflect this.’

Wise words mate, and borne out by


Faith No More rock The Electric Ballroom

the line-ups. Carter USM, Faith No More, George Clinton, Brand New

Heavies, L7, lnspiral Carpets and Shane MacCowan (suspiciously absent i from No Stilettos, despite being plugged) are just a few of the top I names featured in the five-part series, and the lack of any real coherent ster 3 or approach for Electric Ballroom i could well prove an asset. The best pop shows have always been the most 5 chaotic.

This is where presenter .lC 001 comes in. The self-proclaimed fastest rapper in the world, son of an Irish mother and an Indian father, promises to be interacting with the performers in a way “that goes beyond conventional music-show presentation’. Well they all say that don’t they? (Tom Lappin) The Electric Ballroom begins on Channel 4 on Friday 18 June at 12.40am. ,

The List l8 Junc~l Julytws‘et