A prime spat to lift the gloom The RTE stars embroiled in the Masterpiece debate are providing a fine diversion for PAT STACEY

Pat Stacey

It's always an entertaining spectacle when TV celebrities turn on one another like pit bull terriers fighting over a pig's ear. Especially when the antagonists come not from the ranks of reality-show nonentities, which is where these spats usually originate, but from within the whispering corridors of RTE.

But Ireland is a small country and there's a golden rule for the privileged few broadcasters inside Fortress Montrose: never speak out of turn... at least not about other members of your elite club.

All of which makes the current little scuffle between Mike Murphy and Miriam O'Callaghan such an enjoyable diversion. By way of a recap, Murphy sent a letter to The Irish Times last week, complaining about how RTE had treated his programme Masterpiece: Ireland's Favourite Painting.

He was annoyed that Masterpiece was shunted into a 10.15pm slot, behind what he called (and the grammar and punctuation are his own) "the most excruciating boring Prime Time on record -- two semi-coherent wannabe front-benchers shouting at each other about the water charges".

"Here we have the Cromwellian edict of arts programming being banished into the Connacht of broadcasting, ie, at, or past, most people's bedtime," he wrote.

Prime Time anchor mother-of-eight Miriam O'Callaghan was quick to defend Prime Time, telling the Irish Independent: "Of course, works of art are important but less so for people trying to survive and I disagree with Mike's assessment that water rates are boring.

"I like Mike," she continued, "and it's great that he cares so much, but that Prime Time was a fascinating programme."

It's nice for a change to hear someone from RTE telling it like it is. And in this case the one doing that is Mike Murphy.

I didn't care a whole lot for Masterpiece, simply because I don't believe packaging works of art into a contrived competition is the best way to encourage appreciation of them. You can't but agree RTE kicks arts programming around like a tin can.

For all its faults, John Kelly's series The Works, the successor to The View, provides a service you won't find elsewhere on Irish TV, yet it's stuck in an 11.10pm slot.

Meanwhile, the Arts Live strand, which produced a host of superb documentaries over the last few years, is nowhere to be seen in RTE's dismal 2012 schedules.

As for Prime Time, what can you say? It's a current affairs programme. There are times when it's essential viewing. There are also times when it's so dull you'd be better off staring at a slab of concrete. Or a nice painting.

From one high-profile spat to another. Sunday Times TV critic AA Gill sparked a war of words when he said academic Mary Beard, presenter of BB2's excellent Meet the Romans, was too ugly for TV.

Now Samantha Brick, who caused much outrage and not a little hilarity when she wrote a Daily Mail column complaining about how other women dislike her because she's so beautiful, has weighed in on Gill's side. We decided to publish the nicest picture of Samantha we could find, simply to prove that some people can be ugly on the inside.

>dumbed down The death this week of broadcaster Philip Jenkinson was a reminder that movie review shows on TV have dumbed down almost as much as the movies they review.

Jenkinson was co-host, alongside Tony Bilbow, of BBC2's excellent Film Night in the 1970s, until some hotshot new producer decided the programme needed younger, hipper presenters. Jenkinson and Bilbow -- 40 and 43 respectively at the time -- were dropped. Film Night folded within a year.

My generation had Philip Jenkinson. This one has Claudia Winkleman. Enough said.

> puppy outrage It seems 200 viewers complained to Ofcom, the UK equivalent of our Broadcasting Authority, after a girl was awarded a puppy as a prize on last Saturday's episode of Keith Lemon's Lemonaid.

Let me get this straight: 200 people are outraged when a kid is given a puppy on a show which, let's not forget, is about granting wishes, yet nine million are happy to uncomplainingly watch vulnerable people being humiliated on Britain's Got Talent. Aren't dogs supposed to be the dumb animals?