Television review: New Top 20, same ball game
If we were going strictly by the numbers, this should be mainly a sports column. The RTE viewing figures for last year indicate that football matches of various kinds are still drawing the biggest audiences, still representing that ancient ideal of public service broadcasting in which the whole country is watching the same thing at the same time.
The Late Late Toy Show can still do it too, and certain episodes of Mrs Brown's Boys are there or thereabouts. An episode of Room To Improve made it to number 14, as did The News when it was blowing a hurricane.
Which suggests that the Irish people are very fond of Christmas, and of looking at other peoples' houses, and whatever it is that Brendan O'Carroll does. We also like to stay alive, during the very bad weather.
But mainly what we want to do, is watch football matches.
It is perhaps the last remaining thing that television does, that you can't get by some other means, at a time of your own choosing. You really are compelled to watch Ireland playing in the European Championship, while it is happening, more or less at the same time as everyone else - there may be minor variations when you pause the action and then speed it up because your nerves can't take it any more, but essentially you're there, in real time, in the big tent.
Nor does it have to be happening in the moment, for us to watch it in large numbers. I would also suggest that RTE could probably show a documentary such as Micko most weeks of the year - indeed this portrait of Mick O'Dwyer was not just a history of Kerry football for the last 50 years, it was a kind of a cultural history of Ireland during that time.
It was directed by Cormac Hargaden whose Loosehorse company last year did Giles, another portrait of an Irish sporting giant and of the times in which he moved, which was described by some a "surprise hit". As if it was a documentary about some obscure craftsman of the 18th century, rather than a sportsman and commentator revered by the nation - it remains one of the weirdest and the worst TV decisions of recent times that the man celebrated in Giles had been "retired" as a pundit for no reason that any intelligent person could discern, other than the fact that he had reached a certain age.
So for some it was indeed a "surprise hit", though as is the case with Micko, many of us are not at all surprised that viewers are prepared to spend an hour in the TV company of these people whose deeds have defined our own lives in crucial ways.
And we note also the fact that they are being shown not on a "dedicated" sports channel but on the main RTE channel, as the gods of public service broadcasting intended it.
So while RTE and television in general should clearly be moving towards a situation in which every programme should have at least some football in it, Irish people are still watching more than three hours of TV of all kinds, every day. Which is clearly a healthy sign all round.
Netflix of course is a big deal, though there are times when you can get this strange sense of deja vu, as if you've wandered into a video emporium back in the 1980s, when it seemed so exciting that one shop could contain all these cinematic treasures - and then as you tried to pick one to take away with you, you started to marvel not at the range of films that you wanted to see, but at the nature of a film industry which could produce so much that you didn't want to see.
Netflix will provide some form of sanctuary for those who need it during the World Cup, which we will somehow force ourselves to watch in vast numbers, even without Ireland.
In fact I could save the TAM ratings people a lot of trouble by listing most of the Top 20 TV programmes for 2018, here and now.
And guess what?...
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