Sunday 17 December 2017

Even younger rivals threaten RTE's pack of 'young fogeys'

Grainne Seoige lost out to Kathryn Thomas and Ryan Tubridy's radio show is in deep trouble, writes Niamh Horan

There's blood on the carpet at Montrose as a new ruthless battle for ratings gets under way. And it means the "young fogeys" who were once considered the best and brightest at RTE are under threat.

They include Ryan Tubridy's morning radio show, which has taken a serious hammering in the ratings war. Since taking over Gerry Ryan's slot, the show has shed an astonishing 110,000 listeners.

And Grainne Seoige has to be disappointed at being passed over for the 'gig of the year' -- hosting The Voice, the Irish version of a show that has been phenomenally successful in the US. Instead, the plum job was handed to the vivacious Kathryn Thomas.

At 32 years old, the Carlow-born Thomas is just five years younger than her Galway rival Seoige, but station bosses believe that she has the hip credentials needed to front the glitzy show.

And another of RTE's stable, children's TV presenter Brian Ormond, was also sold a dummy by RTE bosses. He was tipped to be the co-host on The Voice -- which will replace the fiercely parochial All-Ireland Talent Show.

Instead, the assignment was handed to rising star Eoghan McDermott, a young presenter who started in TG4 but then landed a gig on XFM -- the uber-cool London station where Ricky Gervais once worked.

And the new moves by Montrose to reinvigorate the national broadcaster have spread to radio.

RTE Radio One chiefs are at war over a decision to axe the long-running Saturday View programme. First presented by radio veteran Rodney Rice in 1986, Saturday View is being replaced by two new half-hour shows in a dramatic overhaul of Radio One's weekend schedule.

The move has stunned the radio centre at Montrose, where the much-loved current-affairs series was about to mark its 25th anniversary on the air.

There is further acrimony at the national broadcaster as RTE chiefs are at loggerheads over the name of a new half-hour comedy slot at 1pm on Saturdays.

The new topical satire will include 2FM's Nob Nation mimic Oliver Callan, alongside a team of new impersonators and writers.

The Radio One boardroom is said to be split over whether to call the new slot Green Tea or Scrap Saturday, invoking emotional memories for bosses who axed Dermot Morgan's original show in 1991.

It's the first full satire show that RTE has commissioned in 20 years and follows the success of the Green Tea election specials in February, which were hailed as a hit inside the station.

Before the official announcement that Kathryn Thomas had got the job she coveted, Grainne Seoige was philosophical about the cut-throat world she inhabits.

"I don't see it as facing off competition," Grainne said with a smile.

"I have never looked at it in terms of age. I still see myself as a young woman of course", she laughed. "And I have been handed five shows this year, so the proof is in the pudding, isn't it?"

Grainne was expected to be a shoe-in for the job when it was first floated by TV kingmaker Larry Bass of ShinAWil productions.

She had already fronted the prime-time reality show The All Ireland Talent Show and had cut her teeth in popular entertainment in the UK.

But according to one well-placed RTE source: "There's no more room for the young fogeys on today's TV schedule. And any fool could see that message was loud and clear in RTE's big shake-up of the new schedule.

"Brian Ormond was also really upset," said the source. "He felt he had worked very hard, had fine-tuned his talents over the years and had proven his loyalty to RTE. Here, a massive opportunity had finally come knocking and then to be passed over for someone who a lot of people have never even heard of? He was more than gutted -- he was very angry at the news."

There seems to be a view that some of the current crop of presenters are "old before their time".

"There was talk that Grainne was too settled for a young person's show like The Voice. RTE is going after the X Factor market and even though she's still very much a young woman at 37, they wanted someone a bit funkier, more spontaneous, on TV."

Eoghan McDermott is seen within the station as a future star.

"You can expect to see a lot more of this guy. He is RTE's hottest young ticket and he has all the edge and bad-boy charisma that Brian couldn't offer. He is for a different market. And this is what RTE needed to sharpen up the schedule."

Ryan Tubridy's performance on radio is also causing concern -- not least because the slot he took over after the tragic death of Gerry Ryan was a huge driver of advertising revenues. The morning show has shed 110,000 listeners.

"If it doesn't work out and the numbers keep dropping, they'll just have to move him elsewhere, possibly back to RTE One.

"He is disappointed, obviously, because he wanted to make the most of Gerry's slot, but if it's not working he won't be too proud to admit defeat and get out before it's too late, rather than hang on and watch the numbers decline further. He has a great talent for radio but never really clicked with Gerry's listeners. His BBC work has been widely praised."

As for The Late Late Show, Ryan Tubridy is also ringing the changes. He is promising big things for the new season, including a return to the "old-style chat show" with longer and more thoughtful interviews and audience interaction that have not seen since the era of Gay Byrne.

One woman making massive strides in RTE and whose performance is said to have "made a big impression" on Montrose bosses is Claire Byrne.

As a TV insider explains: "She thrilled all the right people after filling in for Marian Finucane during the holidays.

"And her performance has promised big things in news and current affairs.

"The feeling is that she is being wasted in a dumbed-down role on afternoon TV and a prime-time slot in a serious presenting role will come a-knocking soon."

The source also claimed that Miriam O'Callaghan had impressed station chiefs after taking over Pat Kenny's coveted radio slot while the presenter was on holidays.

"O'Callaghan has mastered talk shows, has the ability to grill politicians with a charming ease and has produced some very memorable tear-jerking personal interviews to add to that list. She's very well liked," explained an inside source.

"And if Pat was ever to leave that slot, she would be the perfect choice."

Sunday Independent

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