TV3's massive hit show The Apprentice has delivered a crushing blow to rival RTE, wiping the floor with its competition in the Monday night ratings war.
The programme has surpassed TV bosses' expectations, with more people tuning in to watch the reality show than RTE's main evening news -- a feat virtually unheard of in the history of the independent broadcaster.
And now the spin-off show The Apprentice: You're Fired, presented by Brendan O'Connor, is giving RTE's heavily promoted current affairs programme The Frontline -- hosted by Pat Kenny -- a run for its money.
The low-budget programme, which is shot in a Dublin nightclub at a rate of two episodes per afternoon, is now attracting a whopping 323,000 viewers -- only 20,000 behind The Frontline, which clocks up 343,000 viewers on Monday nights. And the latest figures have added to growing rumblings about the huge pay packets of RTE stars.
As a source explained, "Pat Kenny's justification for his huge salary has always been that he attracts ratings and advertising. So how does the fact that The Apprentice: You're Fired has trebled its ratings since it began, while Pat's ratings have fallen, substantially fit into that? Will Pat be taking a pay cut?"
The figures are being viewed as an unmitigated disaster by RTE bosses, who have witnessed the success of several new shows in its 'Comedy Night' line-up collapse under the popularity of Bill Cullen's boardroom exploits.
Although RTE Two has long dominated young people's entertainment, hotly tipped shows which were championed in the autumn line-up are attracting abysmal numbers, in comparison to the powerful draw of The Apprentice and The Apprentice: You're Fired.
Karl Spain Wants To Rock only managed to draw 67,000 viewers last Monday, while The Republic of Telly only pulled in 113,000 viewers.
As one source explained, "All of RTE's up and coming entertainment talent -- Baz, Jason Byrne, Neil Delamare and Karl Spain have all performed disastrously against The Apprentice. The Apprentice is getting four or five times the ratings of RTE Two shows on at the same time. There will be some hard questions asked there.
"It's one thing to have TV3 outperforming RTE Two, which has been on the cards for a while now, but to have TV3 also decimating the main channel, RTE One, in the ratings, is unprecedented.
"This is a huge crisis for RTE. Between The Apprentice on Mondays and The X Factor getting huge ratings for TV3 on two weekend nights, that makes three nights when TV3 is making serious inroads on RTE's audience."
With over 450,000 people now following the antics of contestants such as Breffny Morgan and Aoiffe Madden, TV3 bosses are quietly celebrating the victory over their rival station.
As Ben Frow, TV3's director of programming, explains: "It has been a very hard year, but everyone has worked to make this the best autumn yet on TV3. We have listened to our viewers and are delighted we have demonstrated that we give them what they want."
Meanwhile, Larry Bass, CEO of Screentime ShinAwiL, the company which makes The Apprentice, said: "It's fantastic. I'm very proud of what the show has done for Irish television. It adds a new dimension in terms of competition and competition is good for everybody. We've set the benchmark now and we plan to improve on it."
He added: "The fact that the figures for The Apprentice: You're Fired are even stronger than the numbers that watched the main show last year is brilliant. It's down to a hard-working production team and on-screen talent."