Reheats and repeat on UTV Ireland – elementary, my dear Watson

New Republic-only station seems attached to hokey Oirish travelogues as well as John Hinde advertising break and station ident imagery

Caroline Catz  and Martin Clunes in Doc Martin: the series now showing on UTV Ireland was shown on UTV in autumn 2013

Caroline Catz and Martin Clunes in Doc Martin: the series now showing on UTV Ireland was shown on UTV in autumn 2013

 

The version of Martin Clunes that turned up in your living room on Monday night tells you a lot about UTV Ireland when compared to UTV. Clunes, a reliable sort of actor used to playing decent chaps, isn’t the most obvious go-to guy for a media analysis jump-off, but the difference was there for all to see.

On UTV, the station that until December 31st covered all of Ireland, there was Clunes as Arthur Conan Doyle in Arthur & George, a new, stylish looking dramatisation of the Julian Barnes novel. The intriguing story has Conan Doyle, bored with being the famous creator of Sherlock Holmes, resolving to do some real-life sleuthing of his own and taking on a case.

It is very good and worth watching but that’s of no comfort to viewers of the new station, because, while Clunes was in deerstalker hat mode in his new series on trusty old UTV, over on new UTV Ireland, in the same primetime slot, there he was in Doc Martin, the creaky seaside drama in which he plays a grumpy doctor.

The Doc Martin episode aired by UTV Ireland this week was originally shown on UTV in September 2013 and it is probably safe to assume anyone who wanted to see it already had.

The launch-day programmes of UTV Ireland two months ago threw a bucket of very cold water on the expectations of an exciting new station that had been built up by the glossy advertising campaign – tag line “unmissable” – that had proceeded it.

On January 1st, instead of fireworks and fizz, there was a short and exceptionally dull corporate video-type tour of the UTV Ireland headquarters followed by the (now seen to be ironically titled) Out with the old, in with the U, a tour of Ireland presented by the station’s high-profile signing Pat Kenny.

Since then, the new Republic-only station seems rather attached to hokey Oirish travelogues as well as John Hinde advertising break and station ident imagery, as if it is trying to makes sense in its own corporate head of the audience it is trying to reach – like strangers trying to equip themselves to navigate a strange land. So, primetime slots have featured Terry Wogan’s Ireland (first broadcast on BBC in 2011) and James Nesbitt’s Ireland (first broadcast on UTV in 2013) – both whimsical travel programmes with a touch of paddywhackery.

It has bought in some ITV programmes including Mr Selfridge and Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway. The most recent announcement last month was about Good Morning Britain, the ITV breakfast programme, the acquisition of which it boasted with tremendous enthusiasm but apparently without seeing any contradiction between it and the “Ireland” part of its brand name. That acquisition added to the feeling that the station title doesn’t quite fit, that “Corodale” would have worked better – a reflection that so far the new station is all about the delivery of soap audience blockbusters Emmerdale and Coronation Street and that everything else is just low-cost padding.

Certainly it has its news bulletins but trumpeting them is like an estate agent bragging that a suburban semi d has indoor plumbing – everyone expects a national TV station to have news coverage.

The soaps are delivering in term of audience even if they are putting the station into the 40-plus demographic. January viewing figures show a healthy average viewership of 491,000 for Coronation Street and 341,000 for Emmerdale.

For advertisers, it’s all about the numbers and, for the price it is charging per thousand – somewhere, according to one media planner, between TV3’s rates and cable – it is delivering.

UTV Ireland has recently taken on a PR company PSG Communications which, it says, is to make viewers aware of its programme offering, but you can’t help wonder if it is an effort to brighten up the brand’s overall lacklustre image.

A new series, Kevin Dundon’s Back to Basics, is due to be announced shortly. But before anyone in the ever-hungry independent TV production sector thinks the arrival of Kevin Dundon’s Back to Basics is a sign the station is in commissioning mode, that it is at last starting to throw money its way, it’s not. Back to Basics is a series made by US-based WNET with Irish company Nomos and with sponsorship from Sysco, Tourism Ireland and Thomas Cook. It airs first on US cable channel, Create on March 13th.

There is something, though, that is finally just for UTV Ireland on the horizon. Filming begins in April for Pat Kenny’s new show. Details are still sketchy but it will be an entertainment show, presented in front of a live studio audience of around 150 people and broadcast from the Round Room in the Mansion house. At least it’s home-made. Twitter@Berniceharrison

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