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Falling ratings ... but TV3's €400k anchor isn't about to step down

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Vintage performer: Vincent Browne with his wife Jean. Sean Curtin.

Vintage performer: Vincent Browne with his wife Jean. Sean Curtin.

Vintage performer: Vincent Browne with his wife Jean. Sean Curtin.

He may have made a rare appearance on the "Twitter Machine" this week to talk about his ongoing bout of pneumonia, but after just signing a new two-year deal with TV3, it's unlikely Vincent Browne will be tweeting about retirement any time soon.

The veteran journalist, who turns 70 next month, is said to have been on just under €400,000-per-year with the old contract and is regarded by TV3 as one of their few anchor personalities.

And with the commercial station "spooked" (as one TV3 source says) by the arrival of UTV into the market, executives see their "one-man current affairs department" as a key asset in what is sure to become a fight for viewers.

Tonight With Vincent Browne has a large and loyal audience, with average figures around the 120,000 mark. However, this can drop to as low as 80,000 on some nights and ratings have been in a slow decline. The programme has also lost several key staff in recent months.

Betty Purcell, an experienced, former RTE producer, and Sean MacCarthaigh, who joined from the Irish Examiner and was brought it to bring fresh ideas, resigned last month. Their departures came shortly after another newly-hired producer had also made for the exit door.

Through this period, Browne was working while suffering from a chest infection which has now developed into pneumonia, leading to his admission to St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin. He is now not expected to return to his programme until the autumn.

One TV3 source said Browne had been feeling increasingly unwell from mid-May onwards but did not want to miss the European and local elections and his new format, People's Debates.

"The big debates in particular were very stressful to plan and present, and the feeling is he took a lot on himself at a time when he needed to rest," the insider said.

TV3 have now had to bring in RTE rugby presenter Tom McGurk to fill in for Browne, who will celebrate his 70th with his wife Jean their two daughters. The broadcaster has presented Tonight on TV3 since 2007 – and he is said by those who have worked close to him to be anxious to continue.

He is determined to pay off substantial debts, thought to be around €1.5m, incurred by Village Magazine, which he founded in 2004 but saw close in 2008. Browne sold his family home in Dalkey in 2011, right at the bottom of the property market, for less than the €3.25m asking price.

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"I lost a million and a half on The Village. There was a personal guarantee, and I took out other loans and I'm paying them back," he claimed.

However, the uncertainty in the media industry in Ireland, with speculation about a possible take-over of TV3 by UTV, and Browne's past blow-ups with RTE and others, limit his options.

"He has burnt a lot of bridges, Vincent kind of specialises in that," said an insider who has worked with him. "You couldn't see him going back to RTE or anywhere near Newstalk. Vincent is pretty much stuck with TV3 and they don't have a replacement for him.

"But he keeps losing producers. He has to have it his way and he does not react well to other opinions. Vincent will get into a terrible state.

"He tends to get stuck in these weird cul-de-sacs and won't be talked out of them."

The insider also says there is also a growing belief that Browne's cantankerous, dismissive style is out of date and counter-productive: "People expect him to get into rows. But the Government parties won't put up heavyweights and he's had these rows with guests who you won't see on the show again. Combative makes for great TV, but when you row with everyone, or just wearily dismiss them out of hand, you start to run out of guests."

Britain's Guardian newspaper once referred to Browne as "Ireland's Jeremy Paxman", noting his "acerbic" style.

However, while Paxman is shortly to retire from the BBC at the age of 64, Vincent Browne, after signing a new two-year deal with his station, appears to be going nowhere.

But with more and more politicians and other public figures refusing to appear, deflating ratings and top producers weary of signing up for Vinnie's Wild Ride, can Browne keep his show on the road?


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