The television audience has fragmented. It has shattered into tiny pieces, like a plate dropped on a tiled kitchen floor, and can never be glued back together.
We know this must be true because we’ve been told it’s true by countless newspaper articles, by countless surveys and by the heads of traditional broadcasting organisations forever bemoaning the loss of viewers to streaming services.
Families no longer watch the same programmes at the same time. The teenagers are in their bedrooms watching Netflix or Disney+.
Since we’re here, let’s clear something up. That cosy, idealised, archaic image of the whole family gathered around the television is rooted in a simple historical reality: households used to have just one TV set. You either watched what they wanted to watch or you didn’t watch at all.
These days, even parents and partners are divided. One might be in the living room watching a drama or comedy series, while the other could be in the kitchen or the bedroom streaming a movie or watching live sport.
But traces of those old habits remain — certainly in our house. Most Friday nights we settle down to enjoy, as a family, a beloved chat show that’s been running for many years. We rarely miss an episode of The Graham Norton Show.
Oh. . . sorry, did you think I meant The Late Late Show? Nope, afraid not. I truly can’t remember the last time we sat down together and watched that. I’m guessing it was when our three daughters were still young enough to be interested in The Late Late Toy Show.
To be completely honest, I can’t remember the last time any of us watched it. On the off-chance there’s someone interesting on, you can always catch up on the RTÉ Player, without having to sit through the whole show. It wasn’t always like this.
I was born the same year as The Late Late, so I grew up with it during the Gay Byrne era, when it really was essential viewing. I was there through all the most famous ones — Annie Murphy, Pádraig Flynn, the Aids special (complete with condom demo), Terry Keane, Gerry Adams — but I always preferred the show when Byrne was interviewing big-name actors and comedians, a part of the job he appeared to relish above all others.
I watch surprisingly little RTÉ output during the year
This might seem like a strange admission for a TV critic, but outside of the news, original dramas (which with RTÉ isn’t usually overburdened), certain documentaries, the odd current affairs show and live football (call it soccer if you prefer), I watch surprisingly little RTÉ output during the year.
I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars, because I don’t care for dance shows. I’ve never watched Strictly either. I have a deep aversion to home makeover shows too.
Unless I’m asked to review Room to Improve (and if you’ve reviewed one episode you’ve basically reviewed all of them), I avoid it like the plague. The same goes for the endless cookery, lifestyle and property shows RTÉ churns out in industrial quantities
For the record, I probably watch even less Virgin Media, since a lot of what it shows I’ve already seen on ITV.
From an early age we were exposed to British children’s programmes
The truth is, I’ve always watched more British television than Irish television. I’m far from alone. Growing up in Dublin, a part of what used to be quaintly called “multichannel land”, in the 1960s and 70s, we had the BBC and ITV, which were available here even before RTÉ began television broadcasts.
From an early age we were exposed to British children’s programmes, dramas, comedies, game shows and music shows. This is bound to inform your taste.
Throw in my disinterest in all things GAA (try playing hurling on the concrete of a Dublin flat complex), dislike of rabble-rousing republican ballads (it was The Beatles and the Stones spinning on our record player) and the fact that my grandfather served in the British Army in World War I and some will surely brand me a West Brit. Go ahead, throw that jagged rock and watch it bounce off my rock-hard head!
The curious thing is, deeply immersed as I was in British TV back then, I was still watching more RTÉ than I do now. From the 1970s through to the 90s, it was more productive, more creative, more adventurous. If it ever rediscovers that mojo, I’ll be back (but I’ll still avoid Room to Improve).