What was a modest, six-part documentary strand last year has, in RTÉ2’s new autumn schedule, grown to 18 one-hour films from subjects ranging from weight loss to drug-addicted babies, tattoos, pit bull ownership, matchmaking and sulky racing.
Add in recreational drugs among the middle-class, injuries in the GAA and what happened next to those women who allowed themselves be filmed for the RTÉ2's reality series Connected and it's hard to imagine a broader subject range.
The station, which launched its news season on Tuesday on the Second Captains Live set (one of its returning flagship shows) – none of your standing behind a podium for the youth station – featured more real-life stories than before and, according to station controller Bill Malone, ones most likely to appeal to the national broadcaster's "youth channel" with its core target audience of 15-34 year-olds.
"The brand relaunch last year of RTÉ2 has been really successful. Now we're concentrating on Irish stories with Irish voices for Irish people," says Malone, explaining why the Reality Bites strand has been so beefed up. Four of the 18 were made in-house, the rest by independent production companies and there is a rolling commissioning system.
"Reality Bites nurtures talent," says Malone, referencing people who have previously featured in its one-off documentaries but who have gone on to have their own series such as Angela Scanlon and Maia Dunphy, and production companies such as Motive, which has grown helped by the success of its early documentary on MMA fighter Conor McGregor.
Some faces in the new roster of
are familiar including
he Queen of Ireland
, a documentary following Ireland’s most famous drag queen and self-styled “accidental activist”; and 2FM DJ and columnist Louise McSharry, whose
follows her as she prepares to marry her fiancé Gordon Spierin while battling Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
Others have that "haven't I seen you somewhere before" factor, including actor and writer Jules Coll from the comedy series Damo & Ivor (also returning for a new run), whose dramatic weight-loss story following a gastric-band operation is charted in Nine Stone Lighter .
The budget for each Reality Bites starts at €50,000, says Malone, who adds that by international standards that's very low for one hour of factual TV. It can, he says, rise for specific programmes depending on production demands. For example, foreign travel pushes the budget.
His aim is that the strand pulls in at least 15 per cent of 15-34 year olds watching TV at the time.
“Younger viewers deserve strong public service broadcasting as much as older people,” he says.