Drama and entertainment took centre stage as RTÉ held its autumn season launch event virtually for a second straight year, with director-general Dee Forbes vowing to welcome "new faces and voices" on air and familiar figure Ryan Tubridy signalling the return of a "sense of normality".
In an address from RTÉ's studio 5, Ms Forbes thanked RTÉ's funding partners, including Screen Ireland, as she announced that 40 hours of Irish drama would be broadcast between now and spring 2022, and said the broadcaster would also serve up "a wide-ranging slate of entertainment programming" in the months ahead.
The line-up suggests the international language of crime continues to make its presence felt in the world of television co-production, with two crime-themed series, Kin and Hidden Assets, leading the broadcaster’s drama offering.
Drugs, guns, murder and "the unbreakable bonds of blood" feature in Kin, starring Charlie Cox, Clare Dunne, Aidan Gillen, Ciarán Hinds, Yasmin Seky and Maria Doyle Kennedy. The eight-part Irish-Scandinavian-Canadian co-production, filmed in Dublin, revolves around a family embarking on a gangland war with an international cartel.
Kin was written by Red Rock creator Peter McKenna, who also co-wrote Hidden Assets alongside Morna Regan. Switching from Co Clare to Antwerp, the latter six-parter kicks off with a routine Criminal Assets Bureau raid that exposes links between a wealthy Irish family, a stash of rough diamonds and a series of Belgian bombings.
Starring Angeline Ball as a detective who previously featured in drama Acceptable Risk, it was made by Irish production company Saffron Moon with Belgian and Canadian co-producers and was commissioned by RTÉ and US subscription service Acorn TV.
Britbox, the ITV-BBC joint venture streaming service, is a new co-production partner for RTÉ, with the two joining forces with ITV Studios for comedy drama The Dry from leading Irish producer Element Pictures. Written by Nancy Harris, it stars Róisín Gallagher as a woman who returns to Dublin after years of partying in London.
Dervla Kirwan is also back to lead a second season of Kate O’Riordan’s Co Clare-set mystery drama Smother, in which secrets and lies once again rock the Ahern family. Made for RTÉ by Treasure Entertainment and BBC Studios, Smother’s first-season shoot was interrupted by the Covid first-wave production shutdowns.
Angela Scanlon’s Ask Me Anything, a new autumn chat show in which the presenter will be seen “delving into a slightly different side of people”, was also affected by the pandemic, with its arrival on the RTÉ schedules postponed by more than a year.
“Eighteen months ago, we did two shows and were ready to fly, and then obviously what happened, happened,” said Ms Scanlon.
The Late Late Show, which will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2022, will “put a premium on entertainment and laughter and fun”, Mr Tubridy said, agreeing with launch presenter Emer O’Neill that “we need that”.
“We were very much broadcasting in the shadows, in a manner of speaking, but the fog is dissipating and the world is on the mend, and we’re going to reflect that on the show,” said the Late Late host.
As well as the return of The Tommy Tiernan Show – starting with a Christmas special – Saturday nights will be home to Last Singer Standing, a new karaoke-inspired game show hosted by Nicky Byrne, with his fellow pop stars Nadine Coyle, Joey Fatone and Samantha Mumba as panellists. The series will feature singers from "all walks of life" around Ireland competing to win a €25,000 prize.
“It has all the brilliance of the talent shows we’re used to from the past few decades, but we’re not looking to get a star at the end of this,” said Mr Byrne.
“It’s fun, and after the couple of years we have all had, and obviously with the entertainment industry the way it is, this is a brilliant opportunity.”
RTÉ is due to ramp up its commissions from the independent sector in 2021 and 2022 after failing to meet its statutory minimum spend last year due to pandemic-related production stoppages.
Its launch today took place amid calls from both RTÉ and the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland for the State-owned broadcaster to receive a further boost to its public funding. It has been unable to reverse a slide in commercial revenues that began during the recession and was accelerated by a shift in ad spending to Big Tech companies such as Facebook and YouTube owner Google.
Ms Forbes finished her speech with “a word of thanks” to RTÉ’s all-important advertising clients and agencies.
“We look forward to continuing to work with you and your brands as we emerge further from the pandemic.”