Wednesday 18 October 2017

Once Irish TV's brightest star - is it now goodnight, Gráinne Seoige?

She was Irish TV's brightest star - but she's just been axed from CrimeCall and after hosting last night's Up for the Match, we won't see her again on our screens until December. Ed Power on the golden girl who's become the invisible woman

Grainne Seoige
Grainne Seoige
Ed Power

Ed Power

How did the golden girl of Irish television become broadcasting's invisible woman? It was a question many within the small world of domestic TV asked themselves as it was announced recently that Gráinne Seoige was to be replaced as presenter of CrimeCall.

This was perceived as a career-threatening setback for the 42-year-old, who now has just two highly irregular gigs, hosting the People of the Year Awards and Up for the Match, the annual jamboree preceding the All-Ireland Finals. After she presents tonight's Dublin-Mayo curtain raiser, we won't see her on our screens until the People of the Year ceremony on December 3. And after that - who knows?

By any standards, it has been a rapid tumble from favour. As recently as five years ago, Seoige was ubiquitous on our screens. In 2011, she hosted Gráinne Seoige's Modern Life, the sports quiz Put Them Under Pressure as well as the aforementioned CrimeCall, Up for the Match and People of the Year Awards.

And that was coming off the recently concluded All Ireland Talent Show and her stint as a reporter on ITV's Daybreak. She was everywhere. But now, as if someone had flicked the mute button on her career, she is (practically) nowhere at all.

Replaced: Grainne Seoige will present The People of The Year Awards. Her Crimecall slot goes to Keelin Shanley Photo: Gerry Mooney
Replaced: Grainne Seoige will present The People of The Year Awards. Her Crimecall slot goes to Keelin Shanley Photo: Gerry Mooney

Television is a cruel business and Seoige won't be the first presenter to have seen her profile plunge. Yet if she had demonstrated anything through her 20 years in the business, which began with her debut as a newsreader on TG4 on October 31, 1996, it is that she is a survivor.

Granted, her rather severe style wasn't to everyone's taste. Nonetheless, she proved herself endlessly adaptable, moving between current affairs and light entertainment with an ease that other presenters can only dream of.

Gráinne Seoige during her stint Sky News Ireland
Gráinne Seoige during her stint Sky News Ireland

And even when things didn't work out - such as when Sky axed its dedicated Irish service after less than a year or RTÉ pulled the plug on the sister-act afternoon series Seoige - she just ploughed on.

At no moment did as she exude desperation: Seoige's hallmark has been a supreme confidence and she has never seemed much bothered whether the viewers warmed to her or not. She was here to do a job - and if she did so to the best of her ability, what more could anyone ask?

But it is undeniable that she has come to be an acquired taste and, if you weren't a fan, the "Peak Seoige" years of circa 2008 to 2011 will have been a trial. On Seoige, she came off as a bit stiff and humourless compared to her warmer younger sister, Síle. Meanwhile, CrimeCall was hardly a showcase for her presenting skills - the format-driven series was popular but nobody's idea of glamorous. Through it all, Seoige has always been tremendously ambitious. When she arrived on TG4 as a baby-faced NUI Galway graduate, it was clear we were seeing a young woman in a hurry. In the sleepy world of mid-90s Irish TV, her drive and polish stood out.

"I think it comes from having a very strong set of parents who have a go-getting sort of attitude of, 'Don't sit there and let life take you by the hand, get up and take it by the scruff of the neck'," she reflected to the Sunday Independent in 2010.

Once ubiquitous: Gráinne Seoige has seen her profile plunge in recent years
Once ubiquitous: Gráinne Seoige has seen her profile plunge in recent years

"My parents are very hard-working people and I've a very strong mother who kind of said, 'Nobody's ever going to do everything for you, you've got to go out and do it yourself'.

"I think, sometimes, that's the kind of quality that people admire in sports people. They don't expect it out of women, maybe, or they don't admire it so much in girls, but I've never been afraid to take a chance.

"I remember my father bringing me into school when I was three and a half - my first day in national school, and I actually really remember it well myself. He brought me in, and he always says, 'You walked in like a queen. Nothing bothered you, nothing fazed you'."

The interview was remarkable because it was so forthcoming. Seoige has never played the media game and seemed to regard fame as an inconvenience rather than a perk. Her family life, in particular, was something of which she is hugely protective. We knew that she had a teenage son from an earlier relationship and her 2002 marriage to TV3 sports editor Stephen Cullinane received widespread coverage.

Grainne and Sile Seoige at the 2008 IFTAs
Grainne and Sile Seoige at the 2008 IFTAs

However, she wasn't comfortable with celebrity and her suspicion of the spotlight will have been exacerbated after the end of her marriage and later engagement to South African businessman Leon Jordaan.

Maybe she, in the end, just became too ubiquitous.

One weakness of Irish broadcasting is its tendency to over expose anyone with a modicum of talent.

Suddenly, they're all over the schedules, presenting current affairs, light entertainment, anchoring live events - by 2010 it was almost a surprise that Seoige wasn't delivering weather forecasts or popping up on kids' TV (actually she was, with occasional slots on RTEjr's Tell Me a Story show).

"It's a strange decision but I think it's part of bigger things that are happening now in RTÉ," one insider said after it was announced that CrimeCall would no longer be produced by Coco Television and that presenters Seoige and Philip Boucher-Hayes were to be replaced by Keelin Shanley.

Grainne Seoige
Grainne Seoige

"There are personalities there now who want to show that they are making big decisions and changes are afoot."

Certainly, there has been lots of boardroom turmoil at Montrose, with RTÉ television managing editor Glen Killane and RTÉ2 controller Bill Malone exiting, and new director general Dee Forbes stating that the broadcaster would have to adapt to a media environment in a state of flux.

"What is now, can't be for the future," she has said.

"The business is changing around us, the models are changing, and we have to change with that."

Anyone who has worked at large organisations going through a process of change will understand there are inevitable casualties.

New people bring in new ideas - and often prioritise shaking up the status quo.

And, after 20 years on our screens, who is more status quo than Gráinne Seoige?

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