Channel 4 is bracing itself for a wave of complaints over a new sex education programme aimed at teenagers which airs not just before the watershed but in daytime.
C4 has already had four complaints about animated series KNTV Sex, before it even starts at 11am on Monday (17 November). That’s two more than the now infamous Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross Radio 2 show got straight after it first broadcast.
“That’s worrying to an extent,” admits executive producer Harry Bell. “But I absolutely think we’ve covered every base by working with teachers, students and educational experts across the board. It’s been a real challenge but I think that getting sex and relationships education in schools is going to help our teenage pregnancy rate.” The UK has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in western Europe.
The 10-part KNTV Sex series, which Bell describes as “Jackass meets Sky One science series Brainiac meets Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz” (the inspiration for its award-winning animation), was born out of a desire to make sex education programming that can entertain, rather than embarrass, teenage viewers. Airing as part of the daytime, educational schedule, C4 hopes it will be seen in real-time by teenage viewers – particularly when the school Christmas holidays start next month – and that the programme will be taped and used by teachers in schools.
It helps C4’s cause that, in the time between commissioning and airing the series, a government review of sex education has concluded that personal social and health education (PSHE) should be compulsory for children aged 5 to 16. Much to the chagrin, presumably, of the Daily Mail, which has already drawn the “explicit” KNTV Sex series to the attention of its readers.
Last time C4 tackled sex education in a pre-watershed slot, with the aptly named Sex Education Show fronted by Anna Richardson, the Daily Mail reacted with horror, reporting the “scores” of complaints that C4 had received in a story headlined “Ofcom flooded with complaints over C4’s ‘obscene’ sex education show BEFORE the watershed.”
But the sex series is not the first outing for KNTV. The innovative educational show first appeared as KNTV Science in 2006 featuring animated teenage characters Kierky and Nietzsche. They present a ‘live’ magazine show from a studio inside the fictional and still Communist eastern European nation of Slabovia and showcase a mix of cartoons, comedy and Jackass-style clips from an archive which Bell describes as “the eastern European equivalent of ‘You’ve Been Fooled’ TV”.
Last year producer Tern Television made KNTV Philosophy for C4 which won an RTS Education award before Bell hit upon the idea of extending the franchise to cover sex. “C4 head of education Janey Walker liked the idea of KNTV Sex because it fits with the conventions of the programme and the characters,” says Bell. Watching the first episode of KNTV Sex, it’s as if the Borat-inspired eastern European accents have been specifically designed to take the mystique and taboo out of discussions about penis size and testicular checks.
Bell insists the eastern European premise of the show – backed by an entire online world at www.slabovia.tv (above) – is meant to be a parody of the west, rather than the east. “It’s got that kind of humour within it but I hope what we do with the characters has a more affectionate touch than Borat,” he says.
To promote the series, Tern TV has created an online game, STI Invasion, which it is distributing virally (forgive the unfortunate pun) through social networking sites. The game involves guiding Kierky and Nietzsche through a series of mazes to collect magic condoms that make them invisible and they must battle nasties like crabs and Chlamydia, which are duly explained via pop-up screens. (According to the Terence Higgins Trust, one in every 10 boys under the age of 25 thinks Chlamydia is a type of flower, rather than a sexually transmitted disease).
KNTV Sex is certainly well researched, with input from the Terrence Higgins Trust, Brook Advisory and Sex Education Forum among others. “One of my biggest worries is that it will be taken out of context but the beauty of a 10-part series is that you can comprehensively cover a subject,” says Bell. So if the Mail or anyone else tries to suggest the programme is corrupting or gratuitous, Bell hopes the series can address those concerns if it is watched as a whole.