Why Take Me Out, X Factor and The Apprentice have us all addicted
We can't seem to get enough. Sunday evenings wouldn't feel quite the same without a homegrown talent show. There's certainly been no shortage of them in the past few years, including RTE1's You're A Star and The All Ireland Talent Show, and TG4's Glas Vegas.
TV3, a channel that's traditionally struggled, both in production budgets and audience share, to match the complacent, licence fee-shielded RTE, has carved a valuable niche feeding the desires and needs of a population that appears to love nothing better than seeing ordinary people doing out-of-the-ordinary things.
One of the biggest Irish television hits of recent years is The Apprentice. Although sticking, with the occasional tweak, to a formula tried and tested around the globe, TV3's take on the search to fill a €100,000 a year job has sparked audience and media interest that would be the envy of the British and American versions.
It draws huge coverage in newspapers and on radio. Bill Cullen, hitherto a self-made businessman whose earthy gur-cakes-and-coal-blocks philosophy and memoirs had made him a figure of mild fun, has been reborn as the closest thing this country has to a superstar in a pinstripe suit.
And while you may have trouble recalling the names of the vast majority of the Big Brother winners, you'll have no problem recognising Breffny, the hapless Apprentice hopeful whose apparent inability to perform even the simplest task --plus his "you couldn't make it up" Ross O'Carroll-Kelly accent -- has made him a bona fide comic character.
We love to see people doing the silliest, most desperate things, and if there's a big cash prize or a high-profile job to be won at the end of it, we love it all more.
TV3 looks to have repeated the trick with its new dating show Take Me Out, hosted by Ray Foley. On each edition, a panel of 30 sexy young women size up four young men.
Take Me Out is a copy of the ITV show, hosted by Paddy McGuinness. But while that's a Saturday evening success, this one is likely to cause a bigger splash here. That TV3 is pitching it straight into primetime, up against The Late Late Show, tells you something about the confidence the channel has.
I don't know why this kind of television should be so popular with viewers and participants. Maybe it's a reaction against decades of misery, when the rest of the world (and indeed we ourselves) regarded this country as a grey, timid, socially backward backwater, that has led to this brashness -- this desire to get out there and show off at all costs.
Or maybe it's just that the misery is threatening to engulf us again, and so we're desperate to escape into the alternative reality offered by competitive TV shows, where everyone can be famous and noticed.
Whatever. You can bet that there was a long list of lads queueing up to take part in Take Me Out. And you can bet there will be an even longer list of people queueing up to watch them doing it as the series takes off.