TG4 has vision and right attitude
PAT STACEY ON THE DRAMA AND DOCUMENTARY OUTPUT OF THE LITTLE STATION THAT BEATS RTE EVERY TIME
Remember 1996? It was the year Teilifis na Gaeilge, later to be rebranded TG4, was launched amid a blaze of publicity tainted with hostility. It was a self-indulgent vanity project, went the argument, a costly sop to the Gaelgoiri. It was a white elephant dressed in an emerald-green sweater (Aran-knit, of course) and it was destined to fail.
An unimpressed Kevin Myers christened the new channel "Teilifis De Lorean". I have nothing in common with Mr Myers, other than that we both happen to earn a crust working for Independent News & Media publications, yet I have to say I agreed with him at the time.
But as Groucho Marx said, "Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others." Fast-forward 16 years and I've changed my opinion. TG4 has become indispensable.
The elephant is still around and no longer looks as white as it used to. It still wears its Gaelgoir heart on its sleeve but it long ago widened its repertoire, ensuring it appeals to a bigger and more diverse audience than was perhaps originally intended.
Its estimated 3pc audience share will never be enough to propel its programmes to the upper reaches of the Nielsen Ratings, but anyone who still believes TG4 appeals only to Irish-speakers is a fool.
Which brings us to an interesting conundrum: TG4 might be the least-watched of all the Irish channels, yet it's the one that produces the most interesting domestic programming. In terms of creativity, originality, innovation, adventurousness, vision and sheer chutzpah, TG4 consistently kicks RTE's arse.
One of the most moving documentaries I've seen all year was TG4's Waking the Titanic. Made on a shoestring budget, (not a cent of which came from the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland), it stood head and shoulders above all the other commemorative documentaries and dramas about the doomed ship swirling around the schedules at the time.
Then again, first-rate documentaries are nothing new on TG4. There was another one only this week: Dha Chuirt, which told the grisly story of Irish Wimbledon finalist Vere Goold, who, along with his wife, murdered and dismembered a Monte Carlo socialite in 1908 and boarded a train with her decomposing remains stuffed in a suitcase. Meanwhile, the best in the way of factual programming RTE1 could come up with this week was a programme about the history of the Labour Party.
Aside from The Clinic, RAW and the excellent Love/Hate, RTE's lack of commitment to drama is an ongoing embarrassment. In contrast, TG4's output since 2007 has included thriller Corp & Anam, political drama The Running Mate, supernatural tale Na Cloigne, recession satire An Crisis and two series of the hysterical black-comedy romp Rasai na Gaillimhe. Each bore the stamp of writers, producers, directors and commissioning editors who actually seem to care deeply about making good TV.
There's plenty on TG4 I can't bear to watch -- anything involving hurleys, fiddles, bodhrans and uilleann pipes being a particular no-no. That said, I'd still take its weakest output over the lazy drivel RTE has to offer in the coming week: the return of Miriam O'Callaghan's featherweight chatshow tonight and yet another cookery show on Tuesday. The elephant is entitled to blow its own trumpet. After all, it currently has all the best tunes.
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