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RTE's big crisis ... how to solve a problem like Tubridy and Seoige?

it's THE middle of the silly season and a strange time for RTE to appear to be in the midst of a crisis.

With Marian Finucane on a weirdly long well-paid holiday, Grainne Seoige in the broadcasting wilderness, and Ryan Tubridy losing listeners on 2fm by the tens of thousands, all is clearly not well.

Then comes the bombshell from Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte that the station needs a good shake-up and his assertion that the stars who are not pulling in audiences should be booted out.

It really is a summer of crisis in the halcyon environment of Dublin 4 where star management has now become an acute problem.

You have to ask will RTE management be able to turn around the waning career of Ryan Tubridy and will they be able to find a format for homeless Grainne Seoige?

If not, who are they going to replace them with, and will that work? All the time cost-cutting is a big problem for new director general Noel Curran, along with cut-throat competition from low-cost rival TV3.

It appears there have been two approaches to success for broadcasters in Montrose. You can become a jack of all trades, doing it all (entertainment shows, hard edged interviews, possibly odd-jobs in the canteen), or you can become a mole, burrowing into your niche for all it's worth.

John Kelly, RTE's literate man of the fringes, is reliably brilliant on Lyric FM and The View. And I don't think anyone has even imagined political bruiser Sean O'Rourke outside current affairs (just try and picture him asking Amy Huberman who designed her dress).

In general there's a deep belief within Montrose culture that those on top of the broadcasting game can work in any format.

This idea was seeded by Gay Byrne, a man so adaptable he went from the Late Late Show to motor safety guru to President of Ireland (well, maybe). Indeed, such multi-tasking works well for some.

Joe Duffy has become a huge success as national agony aunt on Liveline, allowing the population some sanity by venting national frustration at our economic woes. His forays onto tv have worked well too and he can look forward to a future on both mediums.

Miriam O'Callaghan can capably host a Saturday night talk show, (winning huge ratings) grill politicians on Prime Time, interview people for Miriam Meets, substitute for Pat Kenny on radio and work on-site as a late night security guard (Okay, I made up that last example).

Luckily for the station she can handle all formats with aplomb -- as audiences seemingly unable to get enough of her.

But there are dangers in being spread so thin. Gerry Ryan had a lifelong niche with his 2fm show, but he unsuccessfully attempted to be a jack of all trades with a series of failed television projects.

Pat Kenny tried to have it all as host of the Late Late Show, but was critically roasted and eventually returned to his role as likeable current-affairs nerd. And then there's Ryan Tubridy, arguably RTE's most natural broadcasting talent. He thrived on Radio 1 and the Late Late Show until management shoehorned him into Gerry Ryan's old slot on 2fm. Tubridy was Superman, but 2fm was his Kryptonite. The ratings haven't been so good.

Ironically, Tubridy is doing well in his part-time job at the BBC, which seems to appreciate that stars become stars by being good at very specific things.







Salaries

In Ireland, Graham Norton could never have turned his weirdly personal niche (irreverent, celebrity obsessed chatter) into something big enough for prime- time viewing (he'd probably have been expected to multi-task a news show, appear on Celebrity Bainisteoir and host the Rose Of Tralee first).

The jack of all trades approach is partly a product of living in a small country with fewer broadcasting opportunities, but it's also because of exorbitant salaries at the top. As long as these remain astronomical, management have to continually justify paying them.

The need to reduce these vast sums was again highlighted by Minister Rabbitte over the weekend and it's a task Director General Noel Curran has committed to addressing (although he seemingly has to wait until individual contracts run out).

Because high salaries are always a bad idea. Just as they distorted decision-making in the banking industry, so too at RTE.

The ridiculous wages at the top levels, as well as costing the licence-payer money, also ensure star-power is seen as more important than every other consideration.

It means that the biggest stars always get the top slots, while stars without portfolio, from Craig Doyle to Charlie Bird, are shoehorned into formats that don't necessarily suit them.

So even though Claire Byrne has been brilliant substituting for Marian Finucane on Radio 1 while the latter goes on her long holidays, the bigger star will keep the slot.

Even though the Gerry Ryan slot on 2fm could have been used to develop a newer, younger presenter, they chose to shoehorn in an established name (who was already happily settled elsewhere). It's why talented presenters like Grainne Seoige get crowbarred with little sophistication into whatever's going.

And it's why, even though he's essentially a man from the past, Gay Byrne is back on our telly screens once more (the whole system is, after all, designed around his multi-tasking image). In these straitened times attitudes to managing talent may change, but not, I suspect, without more pay cuts and some recognition that star presenters are part of a team, not RTE's reason for being.


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