How the removal of The Channel 4 show is much more than an insult to those involved, it’s a dream which has ended in a nightmare and is a big middle finger up to people in Yorkshire.
When Channel 4 executives headed up north to Leeds, it wasn’t to uncover untapped talent but to axe one of the only live TV shows to be made in Yorkshire.
The crew who have been part of the Channel 4 family working their way up the ranks over the past three years were told shortly after Thursday’s show aired, 10 minutes before the news was in the press.
Steph’s Packed Lunch is a true northern success story having struggled to launch in Lockdown 2020 with no viewers at one point to being extended to broadcast live every weekday 12-2.
Now the crew, special guests and lunch mates face an uncertain future as the show which “saved many lives” will end this December, the ultimate blow to Christmas cheer.
As someone who crossed paths with Steph McGovern in her BBC presenter days as she joined us for dinner on our BBC Journalism Trainee scheme in Salford to then securing her own Channel 4 Show which I appeared on some of the first episodes and recently following a break, her career gave hope to fellow northerners who faced the glass ceilings which existed even when the BBC and Channel 4 promised to invest in the north.
MediaCityUK in Salford became a mini London in my eyes. I did everything to breakthrough and even travelled with a baby to university I the grounds to complete an MA in broadcast journalism. I volunteered on a number of BBC productions and made a few documentaries for online.
But just like Steph who made the leap from being a producer to on screen talent was persuaded to dress a certain way at first to fit in, I realised to get in I had to apply via a national scheme and be prepared to travel to London.
I jumped ship when I got pregnant again as I had gone back to trainee level to get a proper BBC job rather than a freelance contract.
It didn’t get much bigger for Steph though as she left to host her own daytime TV show named after her.
It was a landmark live show which launched the start of the live tv community in Leeds with Channel 4 announcing the city as their new HQ up north.
Stephs Packed Lunch had a stunning purpose built studio on Leeds Dock with a variety of guests, presenters and a small studio audience called Lunch Mates all who contributed to the daily news slots and topical items. It was a family on screen, behind the scenes and off screen.
Writing on the wall
Even the mission of the show which is proudly put up backstage reads: “A family on screen chatting with our family of viewers off screen….”
For three years the colourful show managed this. I saw friends, colleagues and some of the team be given opportunities that would have been impossible outside of London. With the right nurturing people thrived. There was a buzz around Leeds Dock as stars headed to Yorkshire to be on the show but most of all Yorkshire talent got their first chance at live TV without the trek to London or attempting to knock on producers doors down south.
So when the heart breaking news broke last week that the show would be scrapped the quake shuddered through many homes of people who tuned as their lunchtime ritual as well as to everyone else directly involved in the show.
A statement from Channel 4 said: “With audience habits changing quicker than ever, we have to make difficult decisions about which programmes to invest in to best drive our digital-first strategy and we have decided not to recommission Steph’s Packed Lunch when its existing production contract ends in December 2023.”
Yes don’t get me wrong I’m a digital first journalist, YouTuber and blogger but that doesn’t mean the principles of good quality journalism, production and the stature that TV and print bring. I know it may not be a show people watch back the next day due to the news being timely but if this is more about channel 4 bring cash strapped then why don’t we just make the show into digital segments as well as the TV production. Us northerners have always been good at grafting and making things work, this is just a stark reminder that even some of the most liberal channels are
“We remain as committed as ever to our mission to help level up the TV industry outside London and to our 50% origination out-of-London target.”
While that’s a great mission as the saying goes “you can’t be what you can’t see,” so it’s imperative in my mind that we not only have people move up north to work for Channel 4 but we harness northern talent and see it on TV, broadcast live from Yorkshire.
Let’s not forget the huge build up to Channel 4 moving to Leeds. It will be hard to replace the thriving heart of Channel 4 Steph’s Packed Lunch and the optimism it brought to people locally.