Friendly TV, which launched in May 2003, was touted as the first truly interactive television channel, and it wasn't belong before I happened upon it on Sky Digital. Having already read comments on the Digital Spy forum, I had to see for myself whether this shambolic excuse for a channel was for real - and it was. And the first thing I saw was a presenter sitting in a chair, plugging his talkback in and checking through his papers. This was shown - in silence - for about five minutes.
Friendly TV was a kind of sub-shopping channel, but without the shopping. (Well, actually that's not strictly true, as there was a shopping segment at the weekend which was hosted, amongst others, by Debbie Flint of Children's BBC and shopping TV fame). The channel could best be described as ramshackle. It seemed to have no particular structure to it - there were no idents, no graphics (except the output from a PC), no DOG (well, that's something to be grateful for), no filmed segments, no trailers - in fact, no presentation at all. They crashed in and out of commercial breaks, seemingly at random, and little attention was paid to the programme schedule.
Friendly TV had two main problems: first, the incredibly poor technical standards - it gave the impression of being run by amateurs. And other is that it appeared to have been set up with little idea as to what to actually put on air.
To be fair, there were some scheduled programmes such as the breakfast show Newshound, usually presented by former Anglia presenter and shopping TV veteran Paul Lavers and a co-presenter. Of what I saw, this show consisted of no actual news, instead it was little more than the presenters going through the morning papers, mixed in with endless, pointless text votes.
Later in the afternoon was Gamerweb, a two hour computer game programme presented by people who openly admitted they didn't know much about computer games. Although at least this did appear to have an opening title sequence. Once again, the majority of this show seemed to consist of the presenters pleading with us to text them in, plus the occasional competition - although Friendly TV didn't appear to have the ability to put callers to air - so we could only heard the presenters' side of the conversation.
It was only the second week of broadcasting that I was able to watch, but even by then the scheduled programmes in the evening were failing to appear. In the first week these had included The Date, in which a dinner date was transmitted live on air. But by week two these had all been carpeted over by continuing Brain Box...
Brain Box appeared to make up the vast majority of Friendly TV's output. Simply, it was a Flash game run off a PC. Occasionally the Windows menu bar even put in an appearance at the top of the screen. It seemed to make random, fleeting appearances right throughout the day, especially around commercial breaks. Often it was run for extended periods of time in silence, until the presenters could be bothered to turn up. The game continued with the addition of their constant chatter on such hot topics as what they're doing this weekend, along with pleas to viewers to text in and play the game, with the promise of a Friendly TV goody bag to the highest scorer.
This would carry on for hours on end, with the only interruptions coming from commercial breaks. In fact, one presenter's chat descended to the point where he was urging us to stay tuned for the great adverts that were coming up! He was also rather alarmed to find out from his co-presenter that he was supposed to be on air the following day. In the event, he wasn't.
Scheduled for at least three hours of the morning, Brain Box was now extending throughout much of the evening and into the night. At least the stakes had now been raised, with a DVD player up for grabs.
The final daily programme was Girl Talk which featured a bunch of women, some on work experience, some who had been invited in from the bar next door, yakking away drunkenly for hours on end, playing disastrous games of roulette, pleading for more text messages, and eating the occasional curry.
Here is a catalogue of some more of Friendly TV's gaffes:
When it began Friendly TV was an extreme example of something being so woefully bad that you had to watch it, if only for comedy value - or maybe that was the intention. It existed solely to make money from text messaging - 50p per text, that is, so the few Brain Box addicts that kept the channel going must surely have racked up a fortune!
But at least they were quite friendly...
Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © Friendly TV