The fourth British television network and second commercial network, after the two BBC channels and ITV; also one of the big five UK TV channels to have been available free to air before the start of digital broadcasting. When British TV switched to UHF in the 1970s four frequencies were allocated to each transmitting site, but political wranglings kept the fourth channel vacant for many years.
Not to be confused with Four Chan, although if you watch shows like Eurotrash it can be hard to tell the difference.
Eventually, in 1982, Channel 4 was created by the Government to break the duopoly of The BBC and ITV, with a mandate to produce innovative, distinctive and arty programs. The initiative arrived just in time to take the final coveted terrestrial space (until years later when the development of technology allowed the creation of Channel Five).
It is publicly owned like the BBC but unlike the BBC it does not get public funding. Until 1992 it was funded by the ITV companies, who in turn sold advertising on the channel. Since then it has been independent, funded by its own advertising revenue.
In its early years it was mocked as "Channel Bore" for its perceived ultra-intellectual high-culture slant, and also mocked for its early red triangle on-screen graphic warning for potentially disturbing material, which many people viewed as a euphemism for Euroshlock. During the 1990s it moved in a more ratings-driven direction and came under sustained attack by Moral Guardians as "Channel Swore" or "pornographers to the nation" for the sexually-explicit and sexually libertarian nature of some of its comedy and drama programmes, including the debauched light-entertainment shows The Word and Eurotrash and the pioneering prime-time gay drama Queer as Folk. More recently it has become well-known as the British pioneer of Reality TV, including the UK version of Big Brother. This and other developments led to some criticism that it had become too ratings-driven and abandoned its traditional interest in the arts and quality documentaries.
It now exists as a number of channels on cable and digital as well.
- Channel 4
- Channel 4 +1
- E4 (Entertainment 4)
- Film 4 (through wwho produced a significant number of cinema films)
- More 4
- All of which have their own PlusOnes
- 4Music (and its sister channels)
It was the first network in the UK to create none of its own programming (as part of their original charter from Parliament, BBC was to educate and entertain, ITV to allow competition, and Channel 4 to allow smaller production houses to have somewhere to sell to) allowing smaller production houses to take off and for US imported programming to appear (although American series were fairly prominent in prime time on both the BBC and ITV until the '90s).
Channel 4 also usually means controversy. It holds the current record for channel with the most complaints about one of its shows (for Celebrity Big Brother). It does an "Alternative Queen's Speech" every Christmas and has wandered into the realms of sex far more than the other channels.
4's most famous show was the first one shown when it began transmitting- Countdown.
It has been the UK licensee of some significant US shows over the years, especially Fox and HBO ones, including Friends, NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, Babylon 5, ER, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, and True Blood. Friends in particular was subject to a severe case of Adored by the Network, with parodies suggesting that Channel 4 would shut down after airing the last Friends episode in 2004.
Its Channel 4 News is traditionally viewed as the most liberal and anti-establishment of the major UK channels' news broadcasts, within the tight boundaries laid down by UK regulators on overt partisanship in TV news.
It has also been a significant producer or co-producer of films (both British and international) since the early 1980's through its subsidiary Film4 Productions. Among them:
- One Hundred and Twenty Seven Hours
- Twenty Four Hour Party People
- Dancer in the Dark
- Dogma (with View Askew)
- In Bruges (with Focus Features)
- The Last King of Scotland
- Slumdog Millionaire (with Fox Searchlight)
- Shaun of the Dead (with Working Title)
- until it moved to Channel Five in 2011