RTÉ One: ‘blue-chip’ shows and no complacency, says channel controller

Passionate experts are in, elitism is out, and more ‘big drama’ is coming... eventually

 

One of the first things RTÉ One channel controller Adrian Lynch admits is that he would like more drama – “big drama”, as he calls it. Ireland’s public service broadcaster is in the middle of a drama drought.

“A good chunk” of the drama budget goes on Fair City, which RTÉ likes to remind journalists is “Ireland’s biggest soap”. Post-watershed, RTÉ One has just the one home-produced drama scheduled before Christmas – four-parter Clean Break – with the 1916-set five-part Rebellion pencilled in for the early new year.

“I think big drama is channel-defining and in 2016 we are upping our investment,” says Lynch. He can’t give any numbers, “but we will be investing more”.

Clean Break, written by Billy Roche and produced by Octagon Films and 152 Productions, is set in a Wexford community “driven by love, greed, status and revenge” – themes that aren’t going to be exhausted any time soon. Will it be back for a second series?

“It depends on how it lands with the audience. That’s kind of the judge for everything. We make programmes for the audience. So it is all down to how it will be received,” says Lynch.

No pressure, then. Clean Break is unlikely to garner Love/Hate-style ratings from the off – even Love/Hate didn’t do that in its first series. But that’s okay. “In drama, it is about offering different things,” he says. “They only made two series of Fawlty Towers. They made five of Love/Hate.”

Lynch joined RTÉ last November from the independent production sector. After a career making documentaries in his 20s, he set up his company Animo in 2003 and it made the “very public service, very authentically Irish” entertainment series Celebrity Bainisteoir and Ireland’s Fittest Family alongside a roster of current affairs docs like Freefall: The Night the Banks Failed and Futureshock: Property Crash.

“They were things that really interested me, those big blue-chip documentaries, and they will continue to feature in the RTÉ One schedule,” he says, calling them the “big Monday night story” from September through to May.

“Accessible” is a word to which he likes to return. Claire Byrne Live, for example, was a bid to make current affairs “more accessible to younger people”, while a recent commissioning brief to producers championed the merits of “strong, accessible and popular” science programming.

So what does “accessible” mean to him?

“Let’s look at the arts. If you look at the Grayson Perry documentary series Who Are You?, that was very interesting because it was about fundamental human identity,” he says of the Channel 4 show.

“It was about something everybody could relate to. When you look at the arts – the arts are visceral, they’re about life, and life can be a complex and messy thing. I would never like us to have an elitist approach to the arts.”

This means getting big names (like Bob Geldof) and “non-arts people” to front RTÉ One arts shows – they won’t all be presented by John Kelly. But people who are passionate experts first, television presenter second, will also be in demand.

The Imelda May Show “rates very highly for a music programme”, he says, because May is “absolutely passionate” about what she does. “She’s the kind of person I like having on the channel, because she is herself.”

The RTÉ One budget is flat on the 2014-15 season and if Lynch wants to make his stamp on his first full schedule by introducing new shows, he will have to weed out others. He is reluctant to share the details ahead of the channel’s launch event in Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre today, but the big one announced months ago was the axing of the Saturday Night Show, with its host Brendan O’Connor giving way to big-money signing Ray D’Arcy.

“If you look across the week, you see Claire, Miriam, Brendan, Ryan, Ray, you know, and others that will be arriving in. It’s an interesting mix,” he says – one that includes some returnees from British broadcasting.

D’Arcy’s chat show will be on air from next month, while O’Connor’s still-in-development replacement gig will get a Wednesday night slot next year. Both shows will be made in-house rather than by an independent production company.

Independent commissions are reviewed “from time to time”, says Lynch but there are no immediate plans to outsource more programme-making. But, in theory, couldn’t The Late Late Show be made by an independent producer?

He doesn’t sound keen. “Part of the in-house expertise is that they do live shows extremely well – second to none. They have really talented teams, it’s a big heritage brand and there’s a huge amount of in-house knowledge about how to make that show.”

Living next door to “a world power in television” and having to contend with comparatively tiny budgets makes life difficult for Irish broadcasters, but RTÉ One remains “a big channel”. It will continue to make programmes that aspire to “that big national feel”, he says, while “not being in any way complacent”.

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