Saturday 10 December 2016

Gaybo: I've had no word on RTE contract for 2012

Published 11/12/2011 | 06:00

This week it was revealed that afternoon programmes The Daily Show and Four Live are to have shortened runs this season as a cost-saving measure.

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This comes after Nationwide presenter Michael Ryan (67) announced he was to leave the station, recounting how RTÉ had told him "there was no money and their back was to the wall" with budgets now slashed for freelancers.

But this is nothing compared to what The Diary reveals today.

Gay Byrne told me this week: "I am on a year-to-year contract with RTÉ. My contract comes up for renewal at the end of the year and I have no indication of whether the contract is going to be renewed next year or not."

With RTÉ TV celebrating its golden jubilee this New Year's Eve, it is quite alarming that its best-known face in that 50-year history doesn't yet know whether he will be on screen with the station in 2012.

But station bosses are advised to get Gaybo -- who recently featured on a special RTÉ series of stamps for An Post (above) -- to sign on the line double quick.

Because aged 77, Uncle Gaybo remains as popular as ever, with TV shows including ratings-hit One Night Only, which will feature a special with The Dubliners over Christmas, and his Sunday music programme -- the most listened-to show on Lyric FM -- and big names lining up for his spiritual discussion The Meaning Of Life.

Since he retired from full-time broadcasting in May 1999, RTÉ has cleverly kept Gay out of the clutches of rival broadcasters -- aside from a road-safety programme for TV3 -- by signing him to an exclusive deal.

But the national broadcaster is now facing a possible €30m deficit for 2011 and the unthinkable is taking place. High-profile stars are set to leave and even newsreader Anne Doyle has now disappeared off our screens to takes up voluntary redundancy. So the question has to be asked -- just how much worse could things get at RTÉ? We dread to think.

However, one thing is for sure -- Gay Byrne will remain on Irish TV screens and airwaves.

"Gay Byrne is like the Taoiseach and the president. He is the single broadcaster in this country who belongs to the nation, not to any one TV channel," TV3's director of programming, Ben Frow, told me last year.

And that is an indication that this national treasure would find a home in Ballymount almost immediately if he was out of contract with RTÉ.

Not that Gay isn't busy, having signed up for five more years as chairman of the Road Safety Authority.

He is also packing out houses with his one-man show, which he brings to the Civic Theatre in Tallaght next Thursday and Friday.

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