Pat Stacey: RTE panders to the ‘Thirteen Percenters’ - one demographic is shaping TV schedule
So, what was your favourite television programme from the past week? Maybe it was Alan Partridge’s jaw-droppingly hilarious meeting with his Irish doppelganger, which is unquestionably the comedy moment of the year.
Or perhaps it was something more serious, like Netflix’s outstanding ReMastered documentary about the Miami Showband massacre and the allegations of sinister collusion surrounding it.
Could be it was a drama – Baptiste, say, or MotherFatherSon – or something even more outlandish, like Amazon’s American Gods or the return of Netlix’s completely-off-its-trolley The OA.
The RTE Thirteen Percenters, however, would have little interest in any of these. If you haven’t heard of the Thirteen Percenters, that’s because I’ve just now given them a name.
You know who they are, though. They’re the percentage of the population – roughly 580,000 in number – who seem happy to watch nothing but RTÉ One, irrespective of content or quality.
They’re the viewers who tune in, apparently driven by blind, primal loyalty, to The Late Late Show every Friday, no matter who the guests are or what superior entertainment might be available elsewhere.
Ben Frow, the boss of the former TV3 from 2007 to 2012, once characterised them as people who’ll watch “any old s**t” as long as it’s on RTÉ One on a Sunday evening.
It was a crude way to put it, admittedly, not to mention a bit rich coming from the man whose commissions included garbage such as Tallafornia, Celebrity Salon and Dublin Wives. Yet, Frow, who now runs Channel 5 in the UK, had a point.
The Thirteen Percenters are the reason why Room to Improve, a formulaic home improvement show that no other major broadcaster in its right mind would consider making the centrepiece of its primetime Sunday schedule, was the second most-watched programme of 2018, excluding big sporting occasions.
They’re the reason why the ghastly Daniel and Majella’s B&B Road Trip – originally a UTV Ireland format that RTE hungrily poached from the ailing broadcaster – became a ratings smash.
Taste is an entirely subjective thing, but the problem is that RTE’s deliberate pandering to the Thirteen Percenters – middle-aged to elderly viewers with rigidly middle-of-the-road tastes – at the expense of every other demographic is now shaping the schedule, with dire consequences.
There’s no imagination, no innovation, no originality, no variety. The first quarter of 2019 has been a long stream of mediocrity. Four Sundays of Dermot Bannon’s Incredible Homes, the architect’s self-indulgent odyssey through the soulless monstrosities of the super-rich, was followed by three Sundays of Daniel and Majella’s USA Road Trip.
Amping their B&B Road Trip shtick (lame, rehearsed “banter”, fake bickering, the occasional double entrendre) all the way up to 11, they crossed the American Midwest in an RV. They could have been anywhere, though, because we learned nothing of interest about the places they visited, but lots about how much Daniel’s US fans adore him.
Next Sunday brings us what sounds conspicuously like more of the same old drivel: Marty and Bernard’s Big Adventure, a two-parter in which, the publicity informs us, “Marty Morrissey and Bernard O’Shea take their bromance on the road”. Dear Lord.
Weeknights are no better. Celebrity Globetrotters (Thursdays) is a variation on Francis Brennan’s Grand Tour. Instead of Brennan, however, we get six mostly irritating individuals, including Alison Spittle and Crystal Swing’s Derek Burke, plodding around Morocco, sneering at local customs and showing absolutely no interest in learning anything about the country or its culture.
Nobody is forcing us to watch any of this rubbish. Unfortunately, we have no such choice when it comes to paying for it with our licence fee.