PARIS (AP) _ It was a television first in France: a station broadcasting live, with a blend of nostalgia and black humor, the last minutes before its demise.

More than 200 employees and supporters of La Cinq, one of only three private channels in France, gathered in the main newsroom Sunday night for an on-the-air wake as the midnight shutdown approached.

La Cinq had been struggling financially almost since its creation in 1986, and its doom became virtually inevitable during several months of layoffs and bankruptcy proceedings.

As midnight approached, the crowd in the newsroom grew somber, and some cried. The last live image was a hand slowly pulling a lever that cut off the live telecast.

Then, in white letters on an all-black screen, viewers saw the message: ''La Cinq wishes to apologizes for this permanent interruption of its pictures and sound.''

Then, ''It's Finished,'' followed by darkness and silence.

In a three-hour show before the end, La Cinq broadcast highlights of some of its most popular programs and most memorable newscasts.

Outside the studio, several hundred people assembled in a show of support for the station. Among them were scores of motorcyclists, fans of La Cinq because it aired many motor-sports events, including the Paris-Dakar rally and many Formula One grands prix.

Over the years, the station also televised reruns of such American programs as ''Miami Vice'' ''Kojak'' and ''Happy Days.''

The station's last realistic hope for survival vanished March 24, when Italian media magnate Silvio Berlusconi abandoned plans to gain control of La Cinq. He said French authorities and investors showed no interest in supporting a rescue bid.

Berlusconi owned 25 percent of La Cinq, equal to the stake of French media group Hachette SA.

La Cinq lost 1.1 billion francs (more than $200 million) in 1991, and operating costs since then have drained an estimated 2 to 3 million francs from Hachette's coffers.

Many of the roughly 600 people left on the payroll were journalists. Only about one-fourth have been able to get jobs with other French TV stations.

La Cinq's demise leaves France with two state-run channels, two private channels and one private pay-TV station.