A frequent criticism levelled at TV3’s version of The Apprentice during its four-series run was that it had more sponsors than an Alcoholics Anonymous Christmas party.
Working your way down through the on-screen list at the close of each show felt like sitting through the entire end credits of the first Superman movie.
The involvement of so many backers inevitably led to a gratuitous level of product placement. But, irritating as this can be for viewers, if you’re a channel like TV3 — or for that matter UTV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky 1 or any of its various cousins — and are in the business of making money in order to survive, sponsorship is a necessary evil. It’s called commercial television for a reason, after all.
RTE, on the other hand, is a state broadcaster, funded out of the pockets of the licence-payers and with a commitment to public service broadcasting.
It’s just like the BBC, really, isn’t it? Except . . . well, it’s not. The BBC doesn’t carry adverts; RTE does. The BBC doesn’t permit sponsors, either, whereas RTE, despite clawing in licence fee money and the lion’s share of the available advertising revenue, can’t seem to get by without them.
Apologies if all this sounds a little familiar; this isn’t the first time the subject of RTE’s peculiar status in relation to advertising and sponsorship has come up in this column. Back in August, I wrote about how virtually every RTE series, from lowly, tatty, cheaply-produced drivel like At Your Service to that flagship ratings behemoth The Late Late Show, has a sponsor.
In fact, a few years ago the very survival of The Late Late briefly hinged on whether RTE could locate a corporate sugar daddy in time for the start of the new season.
One thing RTE does have in common with the BBC is a charter, which is available online as a PDF, that underscores its public service remit. One paragraph, in particular, makes for interesting reading.
It says that RTE will “in the case of its programming, maintain and cherish its freedom from political control or influence and from all other vested interests, whether commercial, religious, social or cultural”.
Fine, noble, courageous words. But I’d love to know exactly how we’re supposed to square that promise with RTE1’s latest “cookery show” (and I’m using those quote marks for a reason) The Taste of Success, which sees the national broadcaster not just hopping into bed with German supermarket giant Lidl, but initiating most of the foreplay.
If you haven’t seen The Taste of Success, it’s ostensibly a competition in which amateur cooks compete for the honour of having their product sold in Lidl’s stores. There’s also €100,000 prize money for the winner.
In reality, The Taste of Success is a weekly half-hour of shameless puffery and guffery for Lidl, in which the retailer’s virtues (“a key player in the Irish food industry”, “investing over €300m in Irish goods”, “transforming our shopping habits” and so on, ad nauseum) are burbled out by Derek Mooney.
And who, I wonder, is paying him for what amounts to nothing more than a corporate video voiceover. I hope it’s Lidl and not RTE, or we might be compelled into the mass-burning of TV licences outside the studio building.
The Taste of Success also features a predictable parade of wearyingly familiar RTE foodie faces such as Catherine Fulvio, Martin Shanahan and, most prominently of all, Paul Flynn, who, as Mooney informed us, is both the “chief mentor” of the series and “a brand ambassador” for Lidl (translation: he’s on the company’s payroll).
It would be easy to dismiss The Taste of Success as just another terrible lifestyle show. But that would be to give it and RTE a credibility neither of them deserves.
It’s not television in any proper sense; it’s a glorified marketing campaign, a pact entered into by a broadcaster prepared to whore itself out to the highest corporate bidder.
It’s shameless and it’s shameful.
MasterChef Ireland won't be on the menu this autumn. RTE, which is due to unveil its new season line-up any day now, put plans for a third series of the cookery competition into the freezer after failing to attract a new sponsor to help foot the €2m production bill.
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