On Irish TV screens, there will be ‘Blood’

New dramas are in production, but a crowded market makes it hard to score a hit

Finding an audience: Amy Huberman on the set of her RTÉ / Treasure Entertainment comedy ‘Finding Joy’.

Finding an audience: Amy Huberman on the set of her RTÉ / Treasure Entertainment comedy ‘Finding Joy’.

 

It’s that time of year when there’s nothing on except repeats and Love Island. And Sharp Objects and The Affair, if you have Sky. And Picnic at Hanging Rock and Poldark, if you don’t. There’s also everything that’s on Netflix if you have Netflix, plus this dark daily drama that seems to have caught people’s interest called “the news”.

In the age of “peak TV”, there’s no such thing as a television drought. Right now, the schedules are really only exhibiting a temporary slowing down of the deluge. Come the autumn, it will be raining new programmes with more intensity and the pressure will be on viewers to choose which ones to take a chance on, which ones to hold off on until the verdict is in, and which to avoid on the principle that life’s too short to develop Stockholm Syndrome with some dreary eight-season saga that will go off the boil soon anyway.

Into this crowded business, the Irish television industry gamely enters the fray with a roster of dramas and comedies that are no doubt produced with love and commissioned with crossed fingers. Will they cut through to viewers? Over the next 18 months, our screens will see more than one test of the theory that Irish audiences still thirst for local content even when there are so many other options to distract them before they get to the well.

Let’s start with TV3, set to be renamed Virgin Media Television from the end of August. Its recent showcase event at Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre was a festival of sport, sport, Louis Walsh and more sport. But then there was Blood.

A psychological crime thriller starring Adrian Dunbar and newcomer Carolina Main, Blood is a sign of the Virgin times: writer Sophie Petzal’s six-part drama about a suspicious death in a family is being made by utilising all of the connections available to TV3/Virgin Media Television through its global corporate relatives.

This is a six-part crime drama set amid gang-warfare in Dublin’s inner city. Sound familiar?

It is the product of Company Pictures (an All3Media company) and Element Pictures in association with Virgin and All3Media International – the latter, which is the distributing arm of UK super-indie producer All3Media, is 50 per cent owned by Virgin Media’s parent company Liberty Global.

Virgin ‘departure’

No air date has been confirmed for Blood, which has been shooting in Meath and Kildare, but it may serve as a precedent for how more Irish drama makes it to the screen in future. Dunbar certainly thought so, hailing its existence as “a great departure” for TV3 and a healthy one for the Irish market.

It will likely be 2019 before Darklands, a TV3/Virgin drama announced last year, makes it to the screen. Made by Parallel Films and written by Mark O’Connor and Adam Coates, this is a six-part crime drama set amid gang-warfare in Dublin’s inner city. Sound familiar? The topical twist here is that its lead character is a 16-year-old schoolboy who dreams of becoming a professional MMA fighter.

Crime is once again the order of the day in RTÉ’s Taken Down, currently in production in Dublin. Made by Spiral Pictures, Taken Down is notable for being a collaboration between Irish crime writer Jo Spain and the creative team behind Love/Hate, namely writer and executive producer Stuart Carolan, executive producer Suzanne McAuley, and director David Caffrey.

Its contemporary story focuses on the investigation into the death of a young Nigerian migrant, taking viewers into “a twilight world of the new Ireland where slum landlords and criminals prey on the vulnerable”, according to RTÉ. Could “the new Love/Hate” – a tag that implies mega-hit status among Irish viewers – actually come from the same people who made Love/Hate?

Huberman’s last RTÉ vehicle, legal affair Striking Out, was struck off after two series

With the international competition pumping out unprecedented volumes of high-quality television and consumption habits edging away from linear television, it is now that much harder for any single show to attain that coveted must-watch status.

Exportable genre

Love/Hate had overnight audience figures of close to one million and more than one million during its final series. That was remarkable at the time. Just half a decade later, it would be a miracle. No wonder broadcasters with small domestic markets fancy the relatively exportable genre of crime above all others.

Away from all the violence (probably), Finding Joy is a six-part comedy created, written by and starring Amy Huberman as (no suprises) Joy, a “relatable” woman who is “just trying to get on with her life after a recent break-up”, but searches for happiness in all the wrong places.

Made for RTÉ by Treasure Entertainment, Finding Joy has backing from Acorn Media Enterprises, the company that until recently was led by Shane Murphy, RTÉ’s incoming group head of drama and comedy. Huberman’s last RTÉ vehicle, legal affair Striking Out, was struck off after two series, so it would be helpful all round if Finding Joy could find an appreciative audience.

The same goes for any Irish show that is neither about crime nor, in itself, a crime.