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ITVBe Is an Insult to Every Woman In Britain

It's also just a terrible idea for a TV channel.

Helen Nianias

Helen Nianias

Tamara Ecclestone and family (All images courtesy of ITVBe)

Pining for a show in which Tamara Ecclestone confuses plain sliced bread for toast? Good news, ladies, the fabulous world of ITVBe - telly's equivalent of Blossom Hill rosé - is here to strip your brain like a chicken carcass! 

The new channel, which Peter Andre and Jamelia launched with much fanfare on Wednesday night, is aimed at "young women and housewives with kids", according to Peter Fincham, Director of Television at the channel. That roughly translates to a timetable stuffed to the gills with The Only Way Is Essex and reality shows populated by wealthy women in shoes that cost more than your rent.  

What does this say about what TV execs really think of women? Why can't we keep TV shows mixed together and struggle through our opposite-sex partners' and friends' viewing choices? 

It's impossible not to contrast ITVBe with "man" TV channel Dave, which launched in 2007. "Everyone knows a bloke called Dave" was the channel's rallying cry. It prides itself on flagship programmes such as the fiesta of wooden jewellery and bad denim that is Top Gear, a bunch of laugh-free comedy panel shows and even Red Dwarf (which absolutely no one has enjoyed since 1998). But to give Dave some credit, at least they think their audience is interested in facts, current events and, y'know, laughing. 

The idea of ITVBe further splitting up heterosexual couples across the country so he can watch Clarkson and she can watch TOWIE's Ricky Rayment is vaguely upsetting. Especially as a quarter of man-woman couples apparently already spend the evening apart to watch "their" programmes. 

Some of the TOWIE cast. 

Imagine a Britain where a penises-in-one-room-and-vaginas-in-the-other telly apartheid is officially enforced. A nation of couples in detached new-builds, sitting on identical leather sofas in separate rooms, not talking, just watching what their respective gender is getting up to. Him fantasising about driving a Corsa through the Kalahari. Her watching Gemma Collins having a right old laugh with the girls. 

It makes you wonder, does everyone who works in TV think that there's really such a huge gulf between what a female viewer and a male viewer wants? The Thick of It screenwriter Ian Martin doesn't.

"I wish them luck, in a sneery, ironic way," he says. "It just seems so fundamentally old-fashioned. Is Great British Bake Off 'ladies' TV'? Is Strictly Come Dancing? Is Doctor Who? I have no idea. It would be quite a depressing thought to be asked to write 'for women', like there are cultural receptors in ovaries. Fuck that, frankly."

What do you think "men's" TV is, then? Cars, birds and footie? "Yes, and all of them being over-revved and covered in mud. With maybe five minutes on personal grooming for the sort of guy confident enough to put the emphasis on the first syllable of 'clitoris'?"

Martin is resolutely not for gendered TV. "It's a stupid, lazy idea. Until Clarkson or some other spud-faced arsehole condemns it, I remain aloof and sceptical." ITVBe itself is far from aloof, though. The channel's tagline is "Life Worth Sharing", and they are absolutely obsessed with you sending in Instagram pics of your chopping board, or whatever, to break up the programming. 

The Real Housewives of Atlanta

The channel's bio also poses more questions than it answers.

"The fabulous new home of lifestyle and reality shows like TOWIE, Dinner Date, all the Real Housewives... and so much more," ITVBe's trailer boasts. "We are an escape from the mundane, bringing you the very best of life. And since our shows are all about real people, we thought the channel should be too... ITVBe should be less like a channel and more like a social network where we can talk about our favourite shows together." 

So, essentially, viewers' selfies will be broadcast to fill that empty, yawning chasm between TOWIE and The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Because we definitely, definitely aren't self-obsessed enough already.

But don't lose all hope just yet. The Guardian's TV reviewer, Julia Raeside, says ITV have fallen into a classic modern trap and reckons the girlie channel cannot last as it is. "I watched Seven Days with... Tamara Ecclestone, which is one of the launch shows, and it kind of told me everything I needed to know about who they're aiming it at. But, from the little I've seen, they seem to think of women as undemanding and vacuous. 'Here, shut up and have some monosyllabic celebrities with nice hair.'"

Is it possible that this really is what a lot of women want? Are we being shitty to assume it isn't? "Channels like ITVBe and Lifetime are trying to tap into something they think we want, which is understandable," Raeside says, arguing that they should learn from the channels that came before them, like Dave. "Dave started as a clearly man-focused offering and gradually softened its marketing to attract comedy fans of both genders, presumably because that first strategy wasn't working." 

More TOWIE cast members 

What about Sky Living? That started out as a pink-branded lady channel, too. "It did, offering high levels of celebrity content. But it ended up just like Dave, with rebranding," says Raeside. "They got rid of the pink, switched to more neutral silver and started showing canny US drama acquisitions like The Blacklist and Hannibal." 

So, historically speaking, gendered channels don't work, because - brace yourself - a person's telly preferences don't seem to correlate with their gender whatsoever.

"Instantly cutting out half your potential audience by aiming your brand at one gender or another seems daft when we're all becoming increasingly sick of the pink vs blue thing," says Raeside. "Even if that is what advertisers and marketing people rely on."

I've got everything crossed that this is right. Look at shows like Gogglebox and Educating Yorkshire, or even the bloody news. Everybody watches these and everybody likes them. But ITVBe? No one's gonna put up with this level of froth for long.

@helennianias

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