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GREAT tv ... JUST NOTHING FROM RTE

As June weekends go, this is an exceptionally strong one for television drama. If anything, we're more than usually spoilt for choice. Having got off to an impressively creepy start last week, The Returned (C4, tomorrow) serves up some more uniquely Gallic chills. For those who like their dramas with a generous side order of camp silliness, The Americans (UTV/ITV, tonight) continues to wend its agreeably daft way through the apparently Soviet spy-infested 1980s.

And if these aren't enough to keep you occupied, there's a lavish historical 10-parter called The White Queen beginning on BBC1 tomorrow, as well as a new Miss Marple mystery (UTV/ITV) for those who prefer their murders on the sedate side.

MEDIOCRE

Overall, then, a weekend of drama that offers something to suit everyone . . . well, maybe not everyone. If you're relying on RTE for entertainment, you're in for an extremely dull time of it. You see, this weekend marks the start of that annual ritual informally known as the summer shutdown, when RTE effectively takes a break from television broadcasting.

British broadcasters have long since discarded the notion that viewers don't demand quality television during the summer because they're either on holiday or preoccupied with outdoor activities.

A combination of climate change and economic collapse put paid to that myth.

RTE, on the other hand, hasn't quite absorbed reality. In summer, Saturday and Sunday – the nights when people crave good television most – become a dreary parade of mediocre movies, GAA games and repeated lifestyle shows like the abysmal At Your Service (RTE1, tomorrow), which at this stage deserves to be withdrawn from service.

To be honest, I'm past caring. I pay my TV licence fee because I have to, the same way I pay tax because I have to, and put petrol in my car because I have to.

At the best of times, 90pc of RTE's home-produced programming holds no appeal for me, either as a TV critic or an ordinary viewer.

The people I feel genuinely sorry for are those poor saps who were duped into buying a Saorview box for the switchover from analogue to digital, in the belief they were getting an improved service; what they were actually getting was the same thing they'd got with their old rooftop aerials, only with better picture quality.

Before the switchover, rooftop aerials in some rural areas (including the one this transplanted Dubliner lives in) could pick up ITV, BBC1 and S4C, which means some Saorview viewers are now getting less value for money than before.

RTE's poor record on producing consistently high-quality programming is nothing new; lately, though, there's been reason to question whether the people in charge at Montrose have the slightest clue about how you run a TV station in the modern era.

COMPETITION

For instance, RTE got its hands on the aforementioned The Americans before UTV and ITV. But instead of making the most of this small coup, the national broadcaster has chosen to show The Americans in back-to-back episodes on RTE2 on Thursday nights, in direct competition with two of RTE1's biggest ratings draws, Prime Time and The Good Wife. It's not the first time this has happened, either. In 2012, RTE started showing the first season of Homeland two weeks before Channel 4.

But rather than giving a showcase slot to what had already been hailed as one of the most exciting US dramas in years, someone decided to stick it on RTE2 on Fridays, at exactly the same time as The Late Late Show was running on RTE1.

While Homeland gave Channel 4 its biggest Sunday night audience in years, it failed to even scrape into RTE's top 20 programmes.

This is scheduling idiocy, plain and simple – not so much a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, more one of the left hand knowing exactly what the right hand is doing, but choosing to ignore it.

But then RTE is good at ignoring things. Not least the needs of the viewers.

before the fall The wonderful Gillian Anderson (pictured right) says ruthless, ice-cool Stella Gibson from The Fall is the character she's most enjoyed playing. "I feel like Stella is closer to me than anyone I've played before," she adds.

I don't know what that says about the former X-Files star, but I'm just glad Stella is on the right side of the law.

turf wars RTE2's excellent Premiership Soccer Saturday, which draws 200,000 viewers a week, has been axed. The official reason is to save money; a less official one, according to an RTE insider, is that there aren't enough Irish players in the top English clubs – like that even matters.

Needless to say, the ugly parish turf wars collectively known as Gaelic games will continue to receive saturation coverage. In fact, we may have to endure even more bogball and stick fighting than usual this summer. Back of the net, RTE! Unfortunately, it's your own net.

gHOST STORIES I know Christmas is seven months away, but two pieces of news this week set my bells jingling with excitement and my baubles jangling with anticipation.

First, the outrageously talented Mark Gatiss will be presenting a documentary about the great ghost-story writer MR James.

Second, he's also writing and directing a dramatisation of James's chilling tale The Tractate Middoth.

Both programmes will be shown on BBC2 on the same night. I'm shivering already.


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