Sunday 4 December 2016

A long, long way from Gaybo's 'Late Late' - RTE is not the key player it once was

John Boland

Published 04/08/2016 | 02:30

RTE broadcasters Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny on 'The
Late Late Show'
RTE broadcasters Gay Byrne and Pat Kenny on 'The Late Late Show'

To lose one parent, Lady Bracknell observed, may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose two "looks like carelessness".

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So how careless is RTÉ's loss of three parental executives and all within the space of a month?

You'd have to wonder, even though exciting new prospects were the reasons dutifully cited by RTÉ TV MD Glen Killane for his announced departure last month to Eir television; by RTÉ2 channel controller Bill Malone at much the same time for heading off to rival network TV3; and this week by news and current affairs MD Kevin Bakhurst for his new job with UK communications watchdog Ofcom. Bakhurst's decision, he insists, had nothing to do with the fact that Dee Forbes was recently given the director general job for which he competed.

Meanwhile, Ms Forbes has been assuring the RTÉ newsroom that while change "can be disconcerting" it can also be both "good" and "challenging".

Managing director Glen Killane has also left RTÉ. Photo: Colin O'Riordan
Managing director Glen Killane has also left RTÉ. Photo: Colin O'Riordan

How that went down with staff is another matter because morale in RTÉ's programme-making departments has been very low for quite some time.

And it is likely to plummet even further with these latest defections by crucial executives.

That's largely because RTÉ has long ceased to be the key television player that it once was - a time when alternatives, in terms of channels, weren't numerous and when Gay Byrne's 'Late Late Show' somehow seemed unmissable to the majority of Irish viewers.

And in recent years, myriad alternative screening options have rendered its hold on viewer loyalty even more tenuous.

It hasn't helped that RTÉ's response has largely been to pander to the most trite and hackneyed of formats (its obsession with hand-me-down reality shows continues unabated), while largely abandoning the serious documentaries for which it was once admired and almost completely ignoring the making of original drama.

RTÉ bosses will tell you that these strands require the kind of money that Montrose simply doesn't have anymore.

Yet, it has no problem spending buckets on the risible Eurovision Song Contest and on trivial reality-docs that depend for their success on celebrity presenters.

Indeed, even the recent 1916 commemorative documentaries seemed to require the presence of a Ryan Tubridy or a Joe Duffy if they were to get the OK from above.

Viewers, though, aren't fooled by any of this or by the paucity of creative ideas in RTÉ programming.

Yes, the occasional arresting investigative programme gets made and, yes, Montrose still knows how to cover sport.

But that's about it from a station that still puts its faith in chat shows that are long past their sell-by date, in lifestyle offerings that either need cancellation or a radical revamp, and in the encouragement of wannabe celebs unable to disguise the vacuity of what they're fronting.

It's a long, long way from the public service remit of which RTÉ and its programme makers were once so proud.

These days, RTÉ1 and RTÉ2 are just two channels among hundreds and with little to distinguish them from most of the others.

Irish Independent

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