Entertainment Television

Thursday 20 September 2018

Pat Stacey: World Cup coverage just papers over the cracks in RTÉ

Eamon Dunphy, Damien Duff and presenter Darragh Maloney at RTE's World Cup launch. Photo: Donall Farmer
Eamon Dunphy, Damien Duff and presenter Darragh Maloney at RTE's World Cup launch. Photo: Donall Farmer
Eamon Dunphy, Damien Duff and presenter Darragh Maloney at RTE's World Cup launch. Photo: Donall Farmer

Pat Stacey

If it weren’t for the fabulous weather we’ve been enjoying lately you might not believe we’re almost halfway through June, the first month of the meteorological summer.

You certainly wouldn’t think it from scanning the television schedules. Summer used to be the time when TV channels went into a sort of self-induced coma.

The evenings were filled up with movies, repeats and repeats of repeats, the assumption being that people had far better things to do with their time when the sun shone than sit in front of the telly.

If a new drama or comedy appeared it was usually a dud, dumped onto the screen outside of the peak viewing season in the hope not too many people would be watching.

Things have changed in the last two or three years. Quality programming is now an all-year-round service.

Over the weekend just gone, for example, you could have taken your pick from a smorgasbord of top-notch programmes including a terrific BBC2 profile of arch-contrarian Germaine Greer, a dark Welsh crime drama called Hidden on BBC4, a fascinating National Geographic documentary on the often bizarre ways Russia manifests its obsession with football, the return of popular favourite Poldark on BBC1, and the final episode of the brilliant Patrick Melrose on Sky Atlantic.

Traditionally, Monday was always one of the weakest television nights during the summer.

Last Monday, however, offered powerful documentaries on the Grenfell Tower tragedy (BBC1) and the citizen journalists risking their lives to document the Islamic State atrocities in Syria (BBC4), as well as the latest episode of Westworld (Sky Atlantic).

Sadly, the one major broadcaster not to share this enthusiasm for beefing up the summer schedules is RTÉ, which has sunk into a deeper-than-usual seasonal inertia this year.

The only programme on RTÉ1 on Monday night that wasn’t a repeat, a film, a news bulletin or Nationwide was Tommy Bowe: The End Game, a documentary in which the rugby player pondered the challenges he’ll face in retirement — challenges which, I venture, will be far less challenging than those facing retirees who aren’t famous, 34-year-old international sports stars with their own clothing and footwear brands.

I could probably find other documentaries I’d be even less inclined to watch than this. I just can’t find one this week, though.

RTÉ1 offered us a double-dose of television laxative on Tuesday with How to Cook Well with Rory O’Connell at 7pm and Daniel & Majella’s B&B Road Trip at 8.30pm.

Thank goodness the World Cup kicks off on Thursday, much to the delight of football fans and, no doubt, the top bods inside RTÉ as well.

There’s nothing like a four-week feast of football, featuring three matches a day (with the exception of Thursday) during the group stage, to reel in viewers, sponsors and advertisers.

Like the majority of viewers in this country, I’ll be watching it all on RTÉ2, where the World Cup coverage has always been second to none.

Unlike the BBC and ITV, which are splitting the matches between them, RTÉ will broadcast all 64 games live, either on RTÉ2 or on the RTÉ Player. All this and Aprés Match too.

But let’s not be blinded like a goalkeeper caught on the wrong side of the sun. The World Cup lets RTÉ off the hook for a month, but it doesn’t completely paper over the cracks in a broadcaster that’s barely fit for purpose the rest of the year.

I feel sorry for viewers who don’t like football. For them, it’s really dreary business as usual on RTÉ: a long summer of discontent mostly featuring interminable repeats of cookery, health and lifestyle shows, bland documentaries, relieved by the occasional worthwhile US import.

But let’s end on a positive note. Once the greatest football roadshow on the planet folds up its tent on July 17, we only have two years to wait until the European Championships.

Herald

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