Sunday 24 June 2018

Negative comments on social media are unfair to TV programme participants, says Room to Improve executive producer

Architect Dermot Bannon with clients Katie and Padraig on Room to Improve, RTE One
Architect Dermot Bannon with clients Katie and Padraig on Room to Improve, RTE One
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

The executive producer of Room to Improve says she has an issue with the 'cruel and misogynistic' comments some clients featured on the show are subjected to on social media.

The hit RTE show features architect Dermot Bannon drawing up plans for the renovation of clients' houses and the process is charted from the initial plan, through the build, to the finished project.

Many viewers live tweet their opinions during the show, which airs on Sunday nights, and it's this shared experience which adds to their enjoyment of the programme. 

Linda Cullen of Coco Productions has been behind the series from its inception in 2007 and has seen it grow from an average consolidated audience of 449,000 back then to the current series' 721,000. 

Linda Cullen (l) is the executive producer of Room to Improve. She has also co-directed 'The 34th' documentary with Vanessa Gildea (r) which features Katherine Zappone (centre)
Linda Cullen (l) is the executive producer of Room to Improve. She has also co-directed 'The 34th' documentary with Vanessa Gildea (r) which features Katherine Zappone (centre)
Dermot Bannon and SQ Patricia Power
Ireland's favourite architect Dermot Bannon and quantity surveyor Lisa O'Brien
Living the dream: Daniel O'Donnell, Lisa O'Brien, Majella O'Donnell and Dermot Bannon in Room to Improve

In recent years social media has become part of the landscape.  Room to Improve either topped or came second in the TAM Ireland's SocialTV Charts over the course of its most recent run thanks to viewers sharing their opinions.

Although she acknowledges that Twitter can be "fun and entertaining" and provide a "real sense of community" for fans of the show, Linda says it can also be "really cruel".

"Part of the excitement of the show is Twitter and that sense of community.  There are very positive things about Twitter.  It can be fun and entertaining as well and people can be very, very smart and funny on Twitter," she tells Independent.ie.

"But there is an element on Twitter who can be very cruel and misogynistic.  There is that element of anonymous commenters who have this sense that they can say absolutely anything they want and I do wonder do they ever think that that person - and I'm not talking about famous people, just people who are having their house built - do they imagine them reading this?"

TV architect Dermot Bannon
TV architect Dermot Bannon
Dermot Bannon
Rory, Lorna, QS Lisa and Dermot on the final episode of Room to Improve

While designing and renovating or building a house can be hugely exciting it can also be stressful for clients and when the process is being filmed for a TV show that's added pressure.

"The process is a good laugh in many ways - there are ups and downs and a bit of drama and all the things that make a good programme, all the things of life - but then Twitter can be incredibly harsh and thoughtless," says Linda.

The eleventh series of Room to Improve wrapped on Sunday night and a twelfth is in the offing for 2019.  Following the final episode, Twitter revealed which episodes of the series had garnered the biggest reaction.

Tipperary couple Katie and Padraig's episode came out on top.  Dermot designed a complete renovation for their 100 year old farmhouse but Katie initially said she was underwhelmed by the design, giving him "zero out of ten".  They clashed over many decisions during the build.

‘Room to Improve’s Dermot Bannon with Katie and Padraig
‘Room to Improve’s Dermot Bannon with Katie and Padraig

Read more: 'Dermot loves an open plan. He'd marry an open plan' - a dividing wall caused serious drama on Room to Improve last night

People shared their opinions, positive and negative, on Twitter and Katie, in particular, received quite a lot of negative reaction from viewers, which she later addressed in an interview with the Limerick Leader.

While she is not on the social media platform herself, she said, "I do think in this day and age people can see the negative impact social media can have on people’s lives and I think people should be a little bit more careful."

The second most tweeted about episode revolved around IT executive Christine who had a long wish list (and structural problems in her home) which saw her budget stretch from an initial €130,000 to more than €170,000 in the end.

Dermot and Christine on Room to Improve
Dermot and Christine on Room to Improve

Read more: Dermot V Christine on last night's Room to Improve was the testiest battle yet 

Dermot and Christine differed in their taste regarding several aspects of the build including the finish on a brick wall in her kitchen, the colour of her kitchen cabinets, and a kitchen island.  Christine was also subjected to many negative comments on social media.

Linda says she has observed that the female clients often receive the brunt of negative reactions.

"Attacking certain characters is quite misogynistic and it's that aspect I don't like," she says.  "Maybe [the women] are the bigger characters, but it does seem to me that the women with good, strong opinions sometimes come across a bit more slack than other people do.  It's something that's bothering me - I have an issue with how some people are treated unfairly."

Despite her concerns, she points out that it is only a small segment of the viewers who do this.  Only a fraction of the audience use Twitter and only a fraction of those post negative comments.

"Twitter is really useful and an interesting new way of communicating and of viewing TV and we [in Coco Television] recognise social media is part of the landscape," says Linda.

She adds, "It can be fun, but it can also be incredibly cruel and it feels like there's nothing we can do about that."

Read more: 'I learned why people go mad for Dermot Bannon and his magical notebook' - A newcomer's guide to Room To Improve 

6 take aways from the Room to Improve best bits special

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