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SKILL of KNOWING WHEN TO bow out

There were two pieces of good news this week for fans of Homeland, currently unspooling on RTE2 on Tuesdays and Channel 4 on Sundays. First, after a couple of wobbly passages in recent weeks, notably Brody's creditability stretching murder of the tailor-cum-bombmaker in the forest, it really recovered its mojo with a cracking episode that ramped up the tension and added fresh layers to the cat-and-mouse game between Brody and Carrie.

Second, it was announced that a third series has already been given the green light -- although there was probably little doubt in anyone's mind that this was going to happen.

Closer to home, RTE's most successful and assured drama production in years, the Dublin gangland saga Love/Hate, returns for a third series next Sunday.

Again, this is a cause for celebration, albeit a slightly tentative one.



Meandering

The hope is that the high standard set by series two, which was a marked improvement on its engrossing but sometimes meandering predecessor, will be maintained by writer Stuart Carolan -- but you honestly never know how these things are going to pan out until a series gets into its stride.

Homeland is a much bigger production than Love/Hate, in that it runs to 12 episodes a series compared to Love/Hate's six. But different as the two are, they're bound by a common question: When is the right time to bring a series to an end?

Homeland's creators are optimistic that they can stretch it out to seven seasons. Personally, I think that might be pushing its luck too far -- although I'd be delighted to be proved wrong.

Even Lost called it quits after six, yet while it was still pulling in a big audience at the end, a lot of viewers felt it had disappeared up its own fundament long before the feeble "they were dead all along" finale.

Six was also the magic number for The Sopranos, which managed to maintain the quality and momentum right to that ambiguous final fade-out, which left fans unsure whether Tony Soprano had lived or died.

Still, at least it HAD an ending. Most series are allowed to stagger pointlessly on for years after they've passed their best.

I'm thinking Shameless (10 series with one more to come), Desperate Housewives (eight), New Tricks (nine and at least one more in the works, despite the loss of James Bolam and the imminent departures of Amanda Redman and Alun Armstrong) and, most bizarrely of all, Taggart (29 series, despite its original star, Mark McManus, having died in 1994).

The Wire had the good sense to wrap up at series five, creator David Simon reasoning that he'd said all he wanted or needed to say about the city of Baltimore and its inhabitants.

Then again, Simon always viewed The Wire as the television equivalent of a long novel.

If only all drama producers could recognise when they've reached the final page.

>SOUNDS LIKE A FLOP: "A dream come true for me" is how British Olympic bronze medal-winning diver Tom Daley described his latest venture. And what is this exciting new prospect laying itself out before him?

Why, nothing other than an ITV reality show about diving called, with the kind of startling originality that makes you marvel at how much cleverer than the rest of us people who work in television are, Splash!



ELASTIC

Each week, Daley will be teaching a bunch of celebrities whose names have yet to be revealed/exhumed how to dive into an Olympic-sized swimming pool -- although given reality shows' elastic interpretation of the term celebrity, in all probability you'll be able to comfortably fit the inevitable cast of minnows into an infant's paddling pool.

There's not a lot anyone can tell Daley about dropping into water from insane heights. Really, though, someone should take him aside and explain the meaning of the term "career nosedive", before it's too late.

>man of the match: Launching his autobiography this week, Bill O'Herlihy revealed that, in contrast to whisperings we've heard about certain other RTE personalities with egos more fragile than his, he doesn't mind the Apres Match team mercilessly extracting the urine from him.

"I think the Apres Match fellas are great," he said, "even though I don't think I say things like 'okey-doke' or 'live' half as much." Actually, Bill, you do, but that's one of the many reasons we think you're great.

The book is called We'll Leave It There So -- which, by the way, is also something Bill says rather a lot.

>odds-on buffoon: It seems ageism is the new sexism. Racing pundit John McCririck -- who should know a thing or two about sexism, since he addresses his wife as "The Booby" -- claims Channel 4 dumped him from its revamped team because he's 72. The station denies this, saying the reason is "audience research". Frankly, this is an outrage. You don't need audience research to tell you McCririck is a tedious, misogynistic

windbag and buffoon who should have been carted off to the knacker's yard when he was 42, never mind 72.


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