RTE chief outlines new bid to revive flagship 'Late Late Show'
Head of TV Glen Killane tells Niamh Horan about Pat Kenny's exit, new season plans and taking on the BBC
Published 25/08/2013 | 05:00
RTE CHIEFS are hoping that the latest major shake-up of the Late Late Show will this time revive the fortunes of its flagship chat show.
Earlier this month, presenter Ryan Tubridy admitted he had to "up my game" in order to stem flagging viewership figures.
And in an exclusive interview with the Sunday Independent, RTE Head of Television Glen Killane insisted Montrose has got the formula right this time around.
A new executive producer, Kathy Fox – Ryan Tubridy's third in three years – has been drafted in to head up the Late Late team.
A new sponsor – Sky Broadband – is on board, and the studio is set to undergo a revamp.
"We want it to come back with a bang," Mr Killane told the Sunday Independent.
One of the first guests on the revamped show will be Brian O'Driscoll, as part of a testimonial special for the rugby legend.
Mr Killane also promises a "stellar list" of guests for the new season of shows.
These have been tough times for the state broadcaster, which recently lost current affairs giant Pat Kenny to private station Newstalk.
Mr Killane said he was not involved in the discussions in the weeks prior to Kenny's shock announcement.
"I wasn't privy to that whole discussion. I was away on holidays so it wasn't really anything to do with me," he said.
In fact, it was only the day before the big announcement of Kenny's departure was made that RTE's head of television discovered the station's biggest star was leaving.
He said he was unaware if Kenny was looking for his own TV show or if he was unhappy before his decision to leave RTE.
"I don't know Pat that well. I have met Pat three times in my life, very, very briefly, so I couldn't tell you if he was happy or unhappy, to be honest," though he waxes lyrical about the former Frontline presenter's talents, marking him out as an asset to any broadcaster, but he doesn't go so far as to say that Kenny will be a big loss to the station:
"I have seen big names in this organisation, and others, come and go and the organisation keeps going.
"No one person is bigger than the organisation," Mr Killane says.
"It's a great opportunity for someone else to come along; fresh blood is always good."
RTE's TV boss concedes that a lot of young talent at the station is underused.
"I think a lot of that is because we just don't have the opportunities," Mr Killane adds.
"We are not making as many shows as we were in 2006. There are people who I would like to be doing more with."
Despite his tough job, in person Mr Killane is soft spoken and unassuming. He hides his aptitude for the corporate side of television under a patina of gentle charm.
He keeps himself to himself, spending his downtime running on Portmarnock beach near his home in Malahide, or devouring American literature from favourite authors such as Saul Bellow or Philip Roth.
But he can also move seamlessly into the world of entertainment and deal with stars when they come knocking on his office door. And they do. "All of them," he says.
They come with an idea, a problem or to hear the dreaded news that they are being axed.
He describes himself as a "counsellor", "mentor" and "executioner" rolled into one.
His favourite TV show – like the rest of the country – is Love/Hate.
But despite the massive success of the gritty gangland series, Mr Killane reveals the show is losing money for RTE.
"It doesn't wash its face commercially," he shrugs.
"We are not in a position where that is even at break-even".
But he insists, despite RTE's huge debts, that sometimes it is not all about the money.
"No one would be making drama in Ireland if RTE did not exist."
Mr Killane said RTE is more than just entertainment, it's about keeping our national identity alive.
"If RTE didn't exist, we may as well be greater Manchester or North Dakota," he added.
"We are a tiny market sandwiched between the two largest producers of content in the world – America and Britain.
"If we didn't have a strong public service broadcaster, who is trying to fight the fight for Irish content, we would be swamped".
He said the plethora of US and UK shows is a form of "cultural colonialism all over again".
It is three years since Mr Killane took on the biggest job in Irish television.
He said the biggest lesson he has learned is that "the audience is number one".
In a recent interview with the Sunday Independent, Mr Killane's direct rival at TV3, Jeff Forde, gleefully spoke of the independent station's plans to take on RTE.
But Mr Killane claimed he doesn't even regard the Ballymount station as competition.
"I'm not in the business of competing with TV3," he says plainly.
Rather he is more concerned with outside forces.
"The BBC spends more on drama in one year than RTE does in its entire organisation."
And when asked if he regarded himself as the most powerful man in Irish television, he replies: "Some people could argue that Rupert Murdoch or the DG (director general) of the BBC is the most powerful man in Irish television."
All around, signs the organisation has become more frugal than ever have trickled into daily office life.
A sign that hangs over a photocopier outside the door of his office warns of the costs of printing in colour as opposed to black and white. The water bottles on Mr Killane's desk are cheaper brands.
But despite the financial constraints, Mr Killane has still managed to draw up an impressive list of new shows to keep audiences captivated in the new season.
"We have a series called The Constituency Clinic following five politicians – including Willie O Dea, Michelle Mulherin, and Michael Healy-Rae.
"We were inside Wheatfield women's prison, and we have a documentary called Who's Buying Ireland. We discovered that between now and Christmas, €6bn worth of Ireland's distressed property will be sold off to investors abroad, to everyone from the Chinese to the Arabs."
As he chats, his phone hops with messages and emails, pinging incessantly. His PA acts as the bad cop to unwanted callers and comes in on two occasions to wrap things up.
Even when he goes to his local for a pint, everyone has an opinion on what Ireland's most prominent television boss should do next.
"You're in the pub having a drink and you bump into one of your old schoolmates and they go 'Jaysus, would you ever get rid of your man'."
Is he ever tempted to shut them up?
"Oh, always agree with them, it cuts the conversation dead straight away," he smiles.
Nice tactic. In a world of counselling stars, cutting costs and making the tough decisions, you'd do anything for a quiet pint.