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Wednesday 17 January 2018

Pat Stacey: RTE's home-grown schedule has same old familiar look . . .

They love numbers in RTE. Whether it's trumpeting the viewing figures for its output, or dolefully announcing the percentage of budget cutbacks needed to balance the books, the average RTE press release often reads like a financial report.

The magic number being hurled around with mad abandon out at Montrose this week was 110, which is the number of home-produced series and programmes, some new, many returning from last year, that feature in the autumn season line-up.

We're all familiar with the term "home-produced", yet it always conjures up faint images of something plucked from the earth, dusty, knobbly and with a whiff of manure, in the RTE garden.

"Never mind how it tastes, it's home-produced. We grew it ourselves, so stop bellyaching and eat up!"

There's a lot of duplication.

George Lee and Richard Curran each get individual documentaries -- respectively, Pension Shock and Property Shock-- both asking the same question from different angles: now that we're up shit creek without a paddle, how do we navigate out of it?

There's a double-shot of political documentaries in the shape of Fianna Fail, a two-part look at the party that threw the paddle overboard, and The Constant President, a one-off about Mary McAleese's final year in office. We even get two Grainne Seoiges for the price of one. In Modern Life, she looks at the challenges facing today's women, then whips her light entertainment hat out of the wardrobe for Put 'Em Under Pressure, a sports quiz that sounds an awful lot like the BBC's A Question Of Sport.







Smuggest

The two bright spots, on paper anyway, appear to be Hostile Environment, in which actor Liam Cunningham explores the shady world of international private security, and Arrivals, a follow-up to last year's Departures, about the country's new generation of economic emigrants. Shamefully, there's no sign of the Arts Lives strand, which last year threw up some of the best documentaries to be found anywhere on TV.

It's no surprise that drama is ill-served again this autumn. There are new series of Love/Hate, starring Robert Sheehan and Aiden Gillen as TV's most photogenic gangsters (who knew murderers moisturise?), and the dreary restaurant drama RAW -- or as we call it in our house, YAW(N) -- but that's all your licence fee will buy you for the next three months.

The good news in comedy is that the excellent The Savage Eye and the immensely likeable Hardy Bucks have been recommissioned. Counterbalancing those, however, are the provisionally titled Life With The Gallaghers, featuring the insufferable PJ Gallagher playing a variety of characters, and something called The Only Viking In The Village, which follows the smuggest comedian in the business, Neil Delamere, as he traces his connection to the horny fellows in hairy waistcoats.

The depressing lack of adventurousness continues with localised takes on The Secret Millionaire, the Channel 4 format that's already so well-known it's difficult to see how it can be pulled off convincingly over here, and MasterChef, a concept that I, for one, will throw up into a bucket if I see yet another incarnation of it.

The Irish Voice, mercifully, not a documentary about Neil O'Dowd's newspaper but RTE's version of the American reality/talent show franchise, also stretches the definition of "home-produced" programme to breaking point and completes the image of the national broadcaster as the second-hand market stall of television.

And before you ask the obvious question, the answer is: Yes, there IS another chatshow in the pipeline. Jostling for its seat in the greenroom alongside The Late Late Show, The Saturday Night Show and Saturday Night With Miriam will be something called Tuesday Night Social (although that's just a working title for now), hosted by Craig Doyle, the missing genetic link between the human race and the vanilla pod.

To coin a phrase, familiarity breeds contempt.

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