Saturday 10 December 2016

John Boland: Nothing to see here: RTE's nostalgia orgy

John Boland

Published 08/01/2012 | 06:00

Kneeling in the Years RTÉ One The Entertainers RTÉ One Fifty Years in the Glow RTÉ One Now That's What You Called News RTÉ One Ireland's Top TV Moments TV3 Charlie Brooker's 2011 Wipe BBC Two

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Celebrating 50 years of Irish television, presenter Mary Kennedy thought it "vital that RTÉ shows programmes that offer inspiration and encouragement" -- a noble sentiment, though rather undermined by the fact that the programme in which she uttered it was chiefly intent on putting viewers into a coma.

Kneeling in the Years it was called (someone should get a slap for that) and it promised to reflect on RTÉ's role in religious broadcasting, though it ended up doing nothing of the sort, consigning three decades of the serious-minded and substantial Radharc strand to a mere mention and focusing instead on a hit parade of great Masses broadcast by RTÉ during half a century.

Joe Duffy popped in to reminisce about reciting a prayer at the Pope's Galway mass in 1979, but that was about as exciting as it got throughout this tedious hour-long exercise in pietistic worthiness.

Mind you, the rest of the week's offerings in RTÉ's 'TV 50' nostalgia-fest weren't much better, largely because they took the lazy way out, opting for self-congratulation rather than any attempt at analysis or assessment. This was a missed opportunity, especially when RTÉ could have asked John Bowman, one of their own, to bring to the task the insider's knowledge and outsider's rigour that make Window and Mirror, his book on the station's 50 years, so engrossing.

Instead, we were subjected to an orgy of self-interest, most notably in The Entertainers, which allowed a score of RTÉ celebs to fondly recall their rise to stardom and their greatest triumphs -- not least Adele King of Twink fame, who saw herself and Dermot Morgan as "a dynamic force to be reckoned with".

The most ambitious of these aren't-we-wonderful programmes was the 90-minute Fifty Years in the Glow, which travelled the length and breadth of Ireland interviewing people about their memories of RTÉ.

This might have been interesting were it not for a basic problem -- not one of them had anything of the remotest interest to say.

That didn't stop them, of course, and so the viewer had to sit there stupefied while, one after another, they recalled the first TV set they bought, the problems they encountered with rabbits' ears and remote controls, their recollections of The Late Late Show and Dallas and sundry other matters too boring to mention here.

But if that was tedious, quite the most bizarre show of the week was Now That's What You Called News, in which Craig Doyle offered the top 20 stories of 2011 as chosen by viewers -- not by television viewers, though, but by followers of what Doyle kept excitedly calling the "social media".

So why was this hour-long hymn to the "new" media being featured on the "old" medium of television? Was it that RTÉ, fearful of being left behind by technological developments, wanted to reassure viewers: hey, we're cool, we know all about Twitter and tweets and smartphones and iPads and the World Wide Web?

And so Doyle was allowed to jabber on endlessly about how everyone now gets their news on the social media, while Mark Little and various others with a vested commercial interest were permitted to puff the importance of their websites -- all of them completely ignoring the fact that nearly all of the 20 stories featured in this countdown (from the deaths of Steve Jobs, Bin Laden and Gaddafi to the visits of the Queen and Barack Obama) came to the vast majority of us courtesy of our television screens and not from smartphones, Twitter or YouTube. So why is RTÉ intent on trying to shoot itself in the foot?

Twenty-three paid pundits took part in this programme, not one of them having anything to say that added to what we already could see with our own two eyes. In Ireland's Top TV Moments, the less profligate TV3 eschewed pundits altogether, while featuring many of the same stories as on the RTÉ countdown.

The TV3 show, though, had the brazen cheek to feature among its Top 30 some 13 items that belonged exclusively to its own channel -- Mario Rosenstock imitating Joan Burton, Vincent Browne confronting Martin McGuinness, Gerry Ryan's final interview, a clip from the frightful Tallafornia, plus scenes from such TV3 buy-ins as Downton Abbey, Emmerdale and The X Factor. You nearly have to admire such naked self-interest.

By contrast, Charlie Brooker's 2011 Wipe (BBC Two) was as bracingly rude about the year's newsmakers as you'd expect. Brandishing the News of the World's final editorial, in which all the paper's "good points" were solemnly recalled, he noted that composing this "must have been like trying to write the eulogy at Fred West's funeral".

Meanwhile, what depressed him most about the London riots was that "it all seemed to be about getting your hands on phones and tellies and trainers", while his only printable quote about Silvio Berlusconi concerned the former Italian premier's agreement to join those who were intent on ousting Gaddafi from Libya -- "though he only took part because he thought it was a plan to invade labia".

You wouldn't hear that from Craig Doyle.

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