Saturday 17 March 2018

Comment: RTE treats its licence payers with contempt by sabotaging its own schedule for BBC show

Mrs Brown, as portrayed by Brendan O’Carroll
Mrs Brown, as portrayed by Brendan O’Carroll
Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden on the Ray D'Arcy Show

Pat Stacey

It's not unheard of for television broadcasts to be disrupted without warning. It’s happened many, many times, usually when some momentous news breaks.

The assassination of President John F Kennedy at 6.30pm Irish time on November 22, 1963, when RTE was still in its infancy, presented TV stations around the world with the kind of challenge they’d never faced before.

In 1970, the three US networks — NBC, CBS and ABC — all switched to coverage of the Apollo 13 mission to the moon (which none of them had deemed important enough to broadcast live), when news came through that an oxygen tank on the service module had exploded.

The sudden death of Elvis Presley in 1977, the horrific murder of John Lennon in 1980, the tragic demise of Princess Diana in a car crash in 1997 and, of course, the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 — which, horrifyingly, were captured by live television as they were happening — are among the other landmark moments when TV schedules were thrown into chaos.

Most people with a functioning brain will understand if normal TV service is disrupted when something of genuine importance happens in the real world. Still, expect plenty of people to be angered by what RTE1 plans to do this weekend.

We could well be witnessing a completely new kind of TV landmark here — the first time an Irish channel has deliberately sabotaged its own Saturday night line-up to make room for a show made by a British broadcaster.

With the kind of fanfare you’d expect if religious affairs correspondent Joe Little revealed he’d secured an exclusive interview with God, RTE announced on Tuesday it will be simulcasting Brendan O’Carroll’s new BBC1 show All Round to Mrs Brown’s at 9.15pm for the next six Saturday nights, thus massively messing up its well-established Saturday schedule.

Lottery game show Winning Streak will now go out at the earlier time of 7.40pm. The nine o’clock news is being yanked back to 8.45pm — an unforgivable act. If there’s one thing that should be set in scheduling granite, it’s the main evening news bulletin, especially at a time when serious news programmes are under threat from a variety of alternative media.

Keith Duffy and Brian McFadden on the Ray D'Arcy Show

But the biggest casualty is The Ray D’Arcy Show, which is being bumped down the schedule from 9.30pm to 10.25pm. To rub salt in the wound, it will be 15 minutes shorter than usual. If I were D’Arcy, I’d be one pretty pissed-off presenter.

I’ve never made a secret of the fact that I don’t think much of the show. I’m not a fan of Winning Streak, either. But that’s irrelevant. An awful lot of people like them, and an awful lot of people depend on them being shown at the same time every week. This is why there are things called viewing habits.

RTE clearly doesn’t set much store by viewing habits; otherwise, it wouldn’t be treating the viewers with such outrageous arrogance and contempt.

Whatever you feel about D’Arcy (who, let’s not forget, was lured away from Today FM at considerable expense to the licence payers), his show pulls in a large audience. Moving a programme that’s been a ratings success, if not a critical one, to a graveyard slot normally occupied by movies and repeats, defies all logic and is a guaranteed way to lose viewers.

In a way, I can understand why RTE wants to get its hands on O’Carroll’s new show (with which, by the way, it has absolutely no production involvement). Mrs Brown’s Boys is, for better or worse, a huge ratings banker for RTE as well as the BBC — and we all know how much RTE loves a risk-free option. Easier to ride on the Beeb’s coat-tails than come up with some original ideas of your own.

But why simulcast it? It’s not as if All Round to Mrs Brown’s is a live show; it’s pre-recorded. There’s simply no need for RTE1 to show it at the same time, not when the vast majority of viewers already have access to BBC1.

It could show it in a different timeslot — after D’Arcy, perhaps — or even on a different night, which is what TV3 does with The Graham Norton Show.

I’m sure of people will watch All Round to Mrs Brown’s. Frankly, I hope they watch it on BBC1, if only to show RTE the same indifference they show to the licence payers.

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