Wednesday 24 October 2018

Bumper season for documentaries but drama sadly lacking

John Boland

CLARE Duignan, director of programmes for RTE television, roundly declares that this year's autumn and winter schedule is "unprecedented in terms of quality and breadth". And though similar assertions have proved to be unfounded in the past, we're all hoping she's right.

It's certainly an ambitious schedule, with over 70 new home-produced series or individual programmes, though why Montrose is highlighting nine new lifestyle series beats me -- given the quality of most of the twaddle we've had to endure in this vein over the last few seasons, is that really something to boast about?

Perhaps the transmutation of 'Seoige and O'Shea' into 'Seoige' minus O'Shea (to be replaced by Sile Seoige) will enthral some viewers, but they're probably the same viewers who regard 'The Afternoon Show' as an exciting way of getting through the hours before teatime.

By the same token, maybe there are people out there who simply can't wait to see hip hop devotees being turned into performers of Swan Lake ('Ballet Chancers') or to witness Brendan Courtney flouncing around frocks (he's the new co-presenter on 'Off the Rails') or to convince themselves that watching families relocating abroad ('The Great Escape') is an innovative idea.

The rest of us will look elsewhere in the schedule.

We'll note in passing that, in politically correct homage to our supposedly multicultural society, RTE has eleven series or programmes grouped under the so-vague-it's-meaningless title "diversity'', and we'll absorb the fact that our national broadcaster continues to classify 'Killinaskully' and 'Ryan Confidential' as "entertainment". Instead we'll move swiftly on to "factual" programmes -- documentaries to you and me.

These have always constituted RTE's great strength, and the line-up for the next few months seems even more impressive than usual -- depending, of course, on the actual quality of the documentaries, whether historical, political, social or cultural.

But most of the forty or so listed have subjects that are both substantial and intriguing -- not just a three-part series on Bertie Ahern or a profile of Sean Lemass, but also a series (not fawning, I trust) on Irish showband stars, and another on the Rutland Centre, as well as one-off portraits of such artistic figures such as Anew McMaster and Hugh Leonard.

Drama, though, as usual with RTE, gets short-changed, with only one major new series -- 'Raw', a six-parter set in an Irish restaurant.

Maybe it will turn out to be a masterpiece, though given past RTE form, we won't hold our breath.

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