The Phone Zone (UK Play, 1998-2000)
One of my first blog pieces was about digital channel UK Play, and how much I enjoyed a lot of their original programming (along with all the repeats and music videos). All these years on, I still stand by this piece, and I thought that I would look back at one of their shows in some more detail, because I tried to watch whenever I could, I did feel spoilt for choice sometimes.
The Phone Zone was a spin-off from music show The O Zone, which had been running for about a decade by this point (another spin-off around this time was The Pop Zone). This was shown live in the afternoon, usually for an hour or two. At the same time on MTV was Select, which had a rather similar idea, and this was clearly designed to be some direct competition, I could only watch one or the other though.
The Phone Zone was an interactive show, so viewers could phone-in or email, although there can’t have been a huge amount of people watching. Various music videos would be shown, and as I was really into pop music at this point, I did find this rather enjoyable. There wasn’t a list of various hits to choose from like on Select though, I think that it was just anything currently in the Top 40 really.
The set design also evolved from practically being just a sofa, to something a little bigger and stylish. There were various hosts, including Vernon Kay in some of his earliest TV appearances (and he really loved those funky tunes), Joe Mace (who went on to further success behind the scenes), Jayne Middlemiss, and Josie D’Arby (who I think had left CBBC by this point).
I think another host might’ve been Lisa Rogers (I’m not sure, but as she seemed to host every other show on TV at this time, maybe it was her). And if they were really lucky, sometimes an actual pop star would in the studio with them! I can only imagine that viewers rushed to their phones to talk to them. The Phone Zone would also be repeated in the morning, so it was the equivalent on UK Play’s breakfast show.
This ran for about two years, ending around the same time that The O Zone did. After this, the replacement was TOTP@Play, which carried on a very similar style, being a live show featuring requests and videos that was attached to a more established music show. And this was rather enjoyable to watch too. This new-fangled digital TV might just catch on.