Entertainment Television

Tuesday 25 June 2019

20 years a growin': the A to Z of TV3

Ireland's first commercial TV station - now Virgin Media Ireland - got off to a slow start, but it's part of the fabric of daily life now, writes John Meagher reports

Election: Vincent Browne and Ursula Halligan before the leaders’ debate on TV3 in 2011
Election: Vincent Browne and Ursula Halligan before the leaders’ debate on TV3 in 2011
Brian Purcell, Bill Cullen and Jackie Lavin for the Irish version of The Apprentice
Bertie Ahern at the launch of the station 20 years ago.
Tallafornia was supposed to be TV3's version of Jersey Shore

'Three is a magic number" was the ubiquitous jingle when the country's first commercial TV station went on air on September 20, 1988. Twenty years on, the TV3 Group - recently rebranded Virgin Media Ireland - has become a significant part of Ireland's daily life.

It has had plenty of highs and lows over that decade and, as it celebrates a milestone anniversary, there have been some good programmes, plenty of bad, lots of sport and bought-in shows as well as journalists and presenters who have gone on to become household names as this A to Z look back shows…

A is for Agenda, the current affairs programme that ran between 1999 and 2004 and was hosted by everyone's favourite floppy haired economist David McWilliams. It was revived in 2016, with McWilliams again at the helm.

A is also for The Apprentice, the home-grown version of the format that's been sold around the world. Car dealer Bill Cullen stepped into the Donald Trump/Alan Sugar role but the programme was cancelled after four seasons.

B is for Byrne, Claire. The Laois broadcaster joined channel after six years in the backwaters of Channel Islands TV, but the relationship turned sour after she left for Newstalk in 2006 and a court case ensued when TV3 tried to block her anchoring a breakfast show (which it thought might affect audience share of Ireland AM). She's now one of RTÉ's highest paid presenters.

B is also for Ballymount, the west Dublin industrial district where the station is located.

C is for Coronation Street. The long-running British soap continues to be a ratings winner for the channel - it hurt when it was lost to the short-lived UTV Ireland.

C is for Crime. They love crime in Virgin Media Ireland… 24 Hours to Kill, Blackmarket Ireland, Crimes that Shook Ireland, Ireland Caught on Camera, Ireland's Missing Mums, Lawless Ireland… the list goes on.

D is for Desmond, Sinéad. She had been the payroll for years but quit last year. It was reported that she had been unhappy to be paid less than male presenters at the station.

D is also for Dublin Wives, a toe-curlingly awful reality documentary series following a selection of attention-seeking women. The channel has had its fair share of forgettable reality shows. Remember Celebrity Salon, Ireland's Pampered Pets and Paddies Down Under? Thought not.

E is for Elaine, the show presented by Elaine Crowley. It's a bit like an Irish version of Loose Women… and Loose Women, itself, is also shown by the station.

E is also for the soap opera Emmerdale, one of a lengthy list of UK shows imported by the station, including Britain's Got Talent and All Star Mr and Mrs.

F is for Fitzpatrick, Colette. Another long-term fixture on the channel, she joined after a few years in the then embryonic Today FM. The Tipperary native was in the same journalism class as ex-colleague Claire Byrne.

F is for Football, and Virgin Media Ireland have had broadcast rights for the Champions League for years. Analysts come and go but former Republic of Ireland manager Brian Kerr remains the most compelling of the lot. From this season, Champions League matches will be shown on the group's new station, Virgin Media Sport.

G is for GAA. The station secured the rights to show selected hurling and Gaelic football championship matches for six seasons between 2008 and 2013, breaking RTÉ's hegemony. But their pockets weren't deep enough when Sky Sports started sniffing around.

H is for Head Chef, a professional MasterChef of sorts had one season in 2011. It was presented by Conrad Gallagher, the controversial Donegal chef who is now plying his fine culinary trade in Qatar.

H is for High Definition. The channel finally opened its high definition studio in April 2017. The old one had begun to show its age.

I is for Ireland AM, the breakfast show that's been on the menu since September 1999. Mark Cagney was the station's first high-profile appointee and the Corkman has been ever-present for almost two decades.

J is for Joey, the now defunct US sitcom that was a Friends spin-off and followed the fortunes of Matt LeBlanc's goofy character. In its first decade on air, The commercial channel was pilloried for the huge volume of content it bought in from overseas and the lack of home-grown programming. The proportion of Irish-made content has increased in its second decade.

K is for King, Martin - the ever-cheery weatherman who used to make his equivalents on RTÉ appear very stuffy. They've a bit more life in them in Montrose these days. And King has proved to be a versatile broadcaster - his latest gig is hosting The Six O'Clock Show with Muireann O'Connell.

K is also for Kenny, Pat. RTÉ's best-paid broadcaster surprised many when he upped sticks for Newstalk and TV3. His interview series, Pat Kenny in the Round, lasted one season. The Pat Kenny Show has been far more enduring and is the closest the station gets to aping RTÉ's flagship current affairs show, Primetime.

L is for Livin' with Lucy. It's a rare example of a programme originally on the RTÉ roster that was revived by the commercial channel in 2016. It's presented by Lucy Kennedy and the idea revolves around her moving into the home of a celebrity, or a 'celebrity' such as Katie Hopkins.

M is for Molloy, Joe. The presenter of Newstalk's Off the Ball sports show is fronting Six Nations coverage and cut his teeth on the station with the breezy sports-themed Clubhouse.

M is also for Martin, Tommy. The Donegal man has mixed it up between sports broadcasting and a spot presenting the Ireland AM on the weekends. He recently opted to give up his seat on the breakfast telly sofa in favour of concentrating on football full-time. Good move.

N is for Newsroom. TV3/Virgin Media Ireland news has punched above its weight for years. In the past 12 months, the station has recruited a pair of hotshot radio reporters - Gavan Reilly, formerly of Today FM, and, more recently, Richard Chambers, ex-Newstalk.

O is for O'Donovan, Brian. The reporter had been a familiar face on the commercial channel's news but left for RTÉ last year as the station's US correspondent, replacing Caitríona Perry.

P is for Perfect Match, a dating series hosted by panto queen Twink. It lasted for just one season in 2000 and failed to make a match with the public.

P is also for Psychic Readings Live. Widely criticised as being irresponsible, the phone-in show ran for six months in 2012 and there were accusations that some of the callers were fake.

Q is for Quality and the most trenchant critics of TV3/Virgin Media Ireland would say that a large chunk of its output feels low rent. But while the station showed such (hugely popular) guff as Love Island, it's also delivered strong programming, including the sombre and highly praised three-part drama, Smalltown, which starred Pat Shortt.

R is for Rugby. TV3 paid big money for the Rugby World Cups in 2011 and 2015 and they outbid RTÉ for the rights for the Six Nations, too. Their largest ever audience was for Ireland v France in the latter World Cup - it pulled in 1.15m people and enjoyed a viewing share of 72pc.

R is also for Red Rock, the soap that got plenty of positive reviews at home and abroad, but a fourth series has been shelved a couple of times, although is now back in the pipeline.

S is for Seoige, Gráinne. She may have cut her teeth on TG4, but it was exposure on TV3 which helped her move to the next level. After a stint on the ill-fated Sky Ireland, she pitched up in RTÉ.

T is for Tallafornia, the ghastly reality TV show that was supposed to be Ireland's version of Jersey Shore. It may have been filmed in Rathcoole, west Dublin, but its title only served to infuriate the denizens of Tallaght.

U is for UTV Ireland, the station that some thought would steal audience. Nothing of the sort happened. UTV Ireland folded and morphed into what used to be TV3's third channel, be3 (now Virgin Media Three). Claire Brock left to join the fledgling channel, but is now back at Ballymount where she anchors News at 8.

V is for Virgin Media, the channel's current owner, and its clunkily named channels Virgin Media One, Virgin Media Two and Virgin Media Three which, respectively, replace TV3, 3e and be3. They don't exactly trip off the tongue and we suspect the name 'TV3' will be colloquially used for some time to come for the main station at least.

V is also for Vincent Browne. The now departed host of the late night political show - hashtag #vinb - got under a lot of people's noses - politicians and viewers among them.

W is for The Weakest Link. The Anne Robinson-hosted original had been a huge hit on British TV, but an Irish version - hosted by Eamon Dunphy - failed to captivate. It was dubbed 'The Meekest Link' by one critic. We said "Goodbye!" to it in 2002.

X is for Xposé, the female-focused daily programme which features beauty, health and fashion. It hasn't been without controversy: long-running presenter Aisling O'Loughlin was dropped in 2016 after a 10-year stint. Its roll call of presenters has included Glenda Gilson and Lorraine Keane.

X is also for The X-Factor, a staple on its weekend schedule despite declining ratings.

Y is for Yates, Ivan. The politician-turned-bookie-turned-radio-pre­senter regularly stood in for Vincent Browne when he was away and now co-hosts The Tonight Show with another radio man from the Communicorp stable, Matt Cooper.

Z is for The Zoo, a fly-on-the-wall documentary series filmed at Dublin Zoo. It was initially shown on TV3 but subsequent series have been on the RTÉ roster.

4.24pc all-day share of viewing on its first day

35.4pc best ever audience share: March 17, 2018

72pc - the audience share for the most-watched programme ever: when Ireland and France played a Rugby World Cup match on the October 11, 2015

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