In the 1960s and early years of the 1970s, when Irish television was in black and white and most households had only one TV set, those of us residing in what used to be called “multi-channel land” considered ourselves blessed.
If you lived in Dublin or somewhere else along the east coast, you could pick up BBC1 and HTV, the Welsh arm of the old ITV network. Viewers in the border counties could pick up UTV.
BBC2, with its promise of the kind of saucy European arthouse movies that rarely escaped the scissors of the Irish film censor, would only become available a little later with the advent of cable television.
Compared with the majority of rural viewers, who had to get by with RTE’s sole channel, we were spoiled. What Dublin kid needed Daithi Lacha and Wanderly Wagon when they could have Doctor Who and Catweazle?
If the kind of television you watch helps shape the way you think about the world, I and a lot of people of my generation were shaped not by what was coming out of RTE in those days but by what was on the British channels.
I hate to think what life would have been like back then if I’d been restricted to RTE. Come to that, I hate to think what life would be like now if I were restricted to the 21st century equivalent, Saorview.
According to the most recent statistics I could find (January 2016), 43pc of all households with TV sets have Saorview, though roughly two-thirds of them have supplemented it with a different free-to-air box, providing them with non-Irish channels.
But that still leaves an awful lot of viewers for whom Saorview is their only access to TV. For them, watching RTE1 at the weekend must feel like being trapped in some weird, Groundhog Day-like bubble.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the channel’s flagship programmes are The Late Late Show and The Ray D’Arcy Show, both live (if often less than lively) chat shows. But when has it ever been any different? It used to be Gay Byrne on Friday, followed by Pat Kenny on Saturday. Then it was Kenny on Friday followed by Ryan Tubridy on Saturday.
Then Tubridy on Friday and Brendan O’Connor on Saturday, until RTE decided to dump O’Connor and replace him with D’Arcy.
Round and round the carousel goes, promising a turn in the saddle for every host in the building, but giving nothing to everyone in the audience.
When the boys give their arse muscles a rest for the summer, Miriam O’Callaghan hops aboard for a spin.
There’s absolutely no justification for having two shows doing exactly the same thing as one another on consecutive nights every week. Since they returned after Christmas, they’ve been dominated by RTE people talking to other RTE people.
The guests on the first Late Late of 2016, on January 6, were half the contestants from Dancing With The Stars, plus Amy Huberman and Neil Morrissey from Striking Out. Journalist Ian Kehoe was also on, talking about his upcoming documentary about vulture funds.
The following night, D’Arcy had on the Operation Transformation leaders, plus old RTE hand Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh.
On January 13/14: Tubridy had Brendan Courtney talking about his upcoming RTE documentary; D’Arcy had ex-RTE rugby pundit George Hook and his family.
On January 27/28: Tubridy had Dermot Bannon plugging Room to Improve; D’Arcy had Dancing With The Stars fixture Dr Eva Orsmond plugging her documentary about prescription drug overuse.
Last Friday, Tubridy interviewed a couple of Dancing With The Stars judges, while on Saturday D’Arcy talked to yet another contestant from that show, Des Cahill. By the time the thing comes to an end, they will have interviewed the lighting technician and the make-up artist.
Even The Tommy Tiernan Show, which is supposed to be a departure from the dreary chat show norm, has been drawn into this.
Tiernan’s guest last week was John Connors, who’s been all over RTE in recent months fronting documentaries about Travellers. The week before, he interviewed – wait for it – Ray D’Arcy.
That old joke about rounding up whoever is in the RTE canteen isn’t a joke any more.