‘Fair City’ won’t bow to ‘Free the Carrigstown One’ petition
7,500 signatories have asked the RTÉ soap to end a ‘tedious’ 10-month kidnap plotline
Katy O’Brien: If the Count of Monte Cristo could be locked up for 15 years, Fair City viewers can manage a few more months
As a genre, soap opera is by definition a never-ending story. Closure and catharsis may arrive for individual characters or particular storylines but the soap itself never stops – unless, of course, it loses its audience and the plug gets pulled.
But from time to time in every soap’s life, one particular story arc will grip the nation or touch on a collective nerve so that it escapes from the normal bubble of committed fans and becomes part of the general conversation.
Such a moment appears to have arrived in a rather surprising fashion for Fair City, though probably not in quite the way the show’s makers would have hoped.
In recent weeks, a popular insurgency has sprung up among some fans of RTÉ’s soap against a storyline which they believe is over-stretched, undramatic and downright boring.
“Last May a girl called Katy O’Brien went missing in a soap called Fair City in Ireland. We eventually found out in September she was being held captive by a masked man and then it was revealed to be the most obvious person called Ciaran... Anybody who watches the show knows how tedious this is becoming... Fair City writers need to end this story as soon as possible!”.
With these plaintive words, Fair City fan William Thomas launched a campaign to “free the Carrigstown One”.
His petition to release Katy has now been signed by more than 7,500 viewers. Digital pitchforks and virtual flaming torches are being brandished across social media, demanding the RTÉ “#freekatyobrien”.
Some might feel that the experience of being trapped in a featureless box with no chance of escape is not dissimilar to that of being a regular soapwatcher. But that would be unfair.
On a relatively skimpy budget, Fair City has managed to retain a loyal audience across the weekly schedules in the face of increasing competition and changing viewer habits. It must, though, be slightly concerning to hear so many of your viewers blowing raspberries and booing from the stalls.
“Drama, by its nature, deals with a wide variety of topics, from the whimsical to the more sobering,” huffed an RTÉ spokesperson last week in the manner of a particularly put-upon and disenchanted English teacher.
“While this particular story is taking time to unfold, it allows us to explore different facets of the drama and how it impacts each of the characters involved from Katy herself, to Ciaran and the family and friends left behind. To have hastened this story would not have done justice to the ramifications of such an act upon everyone it touches.”
Meanwhile, operating on the sound principle that there’s no such thing as bad social-media buzz, the official Fair City Twitter account unveiled an intriguing new strategy at the weekend when it tweeted in the run-up to Sunday’s final of Dancing With the Stars that “We at #FairCity are voting for @AoibhinGarrihy on Sunday and want you to too! We even promise to #freekaty if you do!”
As it happens, Garrihy didn’t win, so Katy remains incarcerated. But the exercise raises the tantalising prospect of a new funding model for RTÉ: “Send us money, or we’ll bore you to death.”
The Irish Times contacted RTE to enquire whether it took petitions of this sort seriously. “They’re a bit of fun and it proves just how invested our viewers get in the show,” said a spokesperson for the show. So that would be a “no”.
Big stories for Fair City are planned up to two years in advance, the spokesperson explained. “We know where they are heading and how they interlock with other stories. Watching the viewers discover that is a big part of the fun for us.”
Everyone has their own vision of “fun”, as the spokesperson makes clear.
“In less than a year since Katy’s kidnap we have seen the impact on her, the wider Carrigstown community and most of all on her family: her parents have split up; her father survived a suicide attempt; her brother has sunk into recklessness and despair.
“There’s hardly a character on the show who hasn’t been touched by the story, sometimes in profound and unexpected ways.”
So there you have it – Fair City is not for turning. If the Count of Monte Cristo could be locked up for 15 years, and The Shawshank Redemption can span decades of imprisonment, then ungrateful Fair City viewers can manage more than a measly 11 months.
“Keep watching this space, and I think we can sustain it through few more twists,” says the spokesperson. You have been warned.