It’s that time of year again when TV stations give a sneak peak of their upcoming schedules, and, much like every other year, this year promises to be the biggest and best year ever, for everyone. The TV landscape is really interesting at the moment, there’s further consolidation with TV3’s pending acquisition of UTV Ireland in a deal that could see TV3 Group assume the mantle of Ireland’s largest broadcasting group and we’ve seen new players flexing their broadcasting muscle with Eir’s acquisition of Setanta. So what’s coming down the tracks in terms of autumn schedules? Well, reality TV isn’t going away, and I can see why, it’s a relatively cheap output for broadcasters and it taps into the content-binge culture that exists today. You would be forgiven for assuming that given the abundance of UK reality TV formats we really don’t need any Irish specific versions but that’s not the case.
RTE will air an Irish version of the hugely successful Dancing with the Stars franchise (aka Strictly Come Dancing in the UK) in their new schedule and an Irish version of Gogglebox is set to hit our screens this autumn on TV3. As a show format, this just shouldn’t work, at any level, Irish or otherwise. It still baffles me, who thought this was a good idea? How did this pitch go? I imagine an Alan Partridge type executive, desperately trying for one last hit TV show to rebuild his crumbling career as he proudly talks into his handheld tape recorder “idea for a TV show, watching people watching TV”. Behave yourself! But strangely it does work, and it works because humans have an insatiable appetite for voyeurism, we love seeing into someone else’s home, someone else’s life. The juxtaposition of someone else’s car-crash life normalises our own, we can associate with the characters we see and it gives us a temperature check on our own idiosyncrasies. I for one often felt better about myself when I saw the posh couple on Channel 4’s gogglebox knocking back wine seemingly every night as they watched telly!
From what I have seen it looks like gogglebox will be a big hit for TV3. But not all formats work when repurposed for Ireland. The Apprentice with Bill Cullen fell between two stools on certain episodes, it didn’t have the integrity of a non-commercially funded BBC show but it lacked the polish of an overtly commercial American version with Donald Trump. Some tasks worked well but some seemed forced at times as contestants ambled around Woodies getting infomercial style demonstrations about Ryobi power tools. The Voice, whilst it had superb production values, just didn’t have the same star quality as its British counterpart and The All Ireland Talent Show (which, by the way was nothing to do with the hugely successful international “Got Talent” franchise) probably did more to shine a light on an alarming lack of talent we have. This may well be because it’s a bit more cringeful when it’s closer to home, we don’t mind British people looking a bit foolish but we don’t want to look like the eejits we are sometimes stereotyped as, so we tend to judge these things more harshly.
It hasn’t all been bad, I thought the Irish First Dates was excellent and Masterchef was another example of an international franchise that worked when localised. The Irish Take Me Out wasn’t any worse than the UK one, if that’s your type of thing, it is what it is, apart from that awkward moment when a male contestant turned out to be a teacher of one of the female contestants, no like-y indeed. That’s another problem in Ireland, we’re a small country, too small for some shows to work, there’s every chance on the Irish version of Blind Date you’ll realise you know one of the girls, previously dated her, or her friend, or she dated your mate. I think I’ve noticed the problem with some of the Irish versions of franchises that don’t work, talent shows just haven’t travelled all that well to date! Irish contestants are (usually) not that embarrassing when they show up on UK shows but when it’s wall to wall Irish people it doesn’t seem to work (usually). We can root for the Irish one no matter how good or bad they are when pitted against everyone else, but when it’s only against other Irish people then it seems to be a case of picking the tallest dwarf.
There’s also the size of the prize, X-Factor can change a winner’s life, and Susan Boyle has done well from Britain’s Got Talent. But what becomes of the winners of Irish talent shows? There’s no global audience, we simply don’t have the scale. Where, I hear you ask, is Pat Byrne, Ireland’s first winner of The Voice in 2012, these days? I’ll tell you, he released his unfortunately titled and unknowingly prophetic debut single, “End of the World” in November 2012 reaching the dizzy lows of no. 61 in the charts, swiftly followed by his second unfortunately titled and equally prophetic single “All or Nothing” in March 2013 which only reached no. 80 in the charts (I didn’t think the chart even went that low)! He has since been dropped by Universal Music and has not yet released any new material, although he plans to self-release an album in 2016. It seems it was, in fact, the end of the world for poor Pat, and given the choice he forced upon an Irish public largely spoiled by a talent overspill from shows further afield, we chose “nothing” thanks! It remains to be seen as to whether gogglebox will capture the interest of Irish audiences to the same degree as it has in the UK but my bet is that it will deliver large numbers for TV3. In terms of reality TV and Irish versions, we’re in for more of the same for the foreseeable future and it’s probably only a matter of time before we see an Irish Big Brother or possibly an Ex on The Beach on the stony shores of Bray seafront…….