RTÉ’s new TV season focuses on Irish obsessions

Live weather event and sporting moment vote will feature alongside familiar formats

Ireland's obsessions with weather and sporting glory will be given pride of place in RTÉ's new season of television programming, which it will launch in The Late Late Show studio in Donnybrook on Thursday morning.

The new season – billed by Adrian Lynch, controller of RTÉ1 and RTÉ2, as a "strong public service launch" – will take a stormy turn in November with Weather Watch Live, a week-long "event television" special that will feature live broadcasts from weather observing stations such as Hook Head and build on the daily spikes in viewing won by weather updates.

“Something like 700,000 people watch the weather on RTÉ1 every day,” said Mr Lynch.

Ireland's Greatest Sporting Moments, a cross-media, decade-by-decade public voting exercise fronted by Evanne Ní Chuilinn and Des Cahill, is set to be another talking point, while The Game, in partnership with the GAA, is billed as the "definitive" story of hurling.


As part of a series on class and income inequality, Joe Duffy will revisit the introduction of free secondary education in 1967 and Dr Eva Orsmond will examine a class divide in health.

For Sunday teatime viewing, RTÉ has lined up Ireland's Deep Atlantic, the latest documentary series by underwater camera specialist Ken O'Sullivan and his company Sea Fever, which was more than two years in the making. Another "blue-chip" production with a long lead time is Wild Irish Year, a study of the four seasons by Crossing the Line Films.

“All of these things are big differentiators for us. They’re highly accessible, they’re communal viewing and they’re also legacy pieces,” Mr Lynch said.

Joyce and Shaw

As part of a string of new partnerships with other Irish cultural institutions, RTÉ will show National Treasures, a four-part Antiques Roadshow-style series made in partnership with the National Museum of Ireland.

Anjelica Huston's two-part documentary about James Joyce, and Countdown to Calvary, a Hugh Bonneville-fronted one-off destined for screens next Easter, arrive courtesy of RTÉ's coproduction deal with European public broadcaster Arte. Other arts programming includes Gabriel Byrne on George Bernard Shaw; and Citizen Lane, a drama about Hugh Lane.

RTÉ is "upping its investment" in its RTÉ Investigates strand of journalism, Mr Lynch said, while there will be a series of specials to mark the 25th anniversary of Prime Time.

One programme commissioned well in advance of transmission is The Voting Age, a moment-by-moment re-creation of the 1918 election, which will be fronted by David McCullagh in December 2018. The War of Independence drama Resistance will be broadcast in late 2018 or early 2019.

Previously announced drama Acceptable Risk, a six-part pharmaceutical industry thriller, will air before this Christmas, while legal drama Striking Out will return in the new year.

Familiar formats

RTÉ and production company Shinawil are in the process of casting the second series of RTÉ1's family entertainment hit Dancing with the Stars, which will run for 12 weeks in the new year. Coco Television's First Dates will also return to RTÉ2 for a 12-week run, while the channel will see the debut of the Irish version of US wedding format Say Yes to the Dress.

Lynch is tasked with delivering “a re-energised RTÉ2 with a broader reach”. The 13 new series on the channel will mostly be aimed at the 20- to 45-year-old age group, rather than the 15- to 34-year-old demographic that the channel attempted to tap in the past.

New shows include The Young Offenders, a six-part follow-up to the film about Cork teenagers, which was commissioned by BBC3 in association with RTÉ, and children's comedy Drop Dead Weird, an Irish-Australian co-production starring Pauline McLynn and David Rawle, as well as Alison Spittle's six-part comedy Nowhere Fast.

Brendan Courtney will present four-part series This Crowded House, looking at the phenomenon of grown-up children living with their parents as a result of spiralling rents, while actor Yasmine Akram, known for her role in Sherlock, will present Irish in Wonderland, a two-part look at Irish people working in the service of the super-rich.

Other RTÉ2 documentaries include Schizophrenia: The Voices in my Head, Trauma: Life & Death in A&E and Becoming Me, about the experiences of trans people.

The focus on RTÉ2 comes as a number of recent shows aimed at younger viewers have struggled to gain traction, amid intensifying competition in the market from international on-demand companies led by Netflix.

Rugby goes to TV3

The channel's former controller Bill Malone left in 2016 to go to Virgin Media's TV3 Group, where he will launch its new season of programming next week. TV3's line-up will include a notable absentee from the RTÉ schedule, the 2018 Six Nations rugby tournament.

RTÉ, which recorded a deficit of €20 million in 2016, needs to cut its costs to cope with subdued advertising revenues and an uncertain public funding outlook. It is expected to shortly launch a voluntary redundancy scheme, while a major restructuring of the organisation by director-general Dee Forbes is due to take effect from October.

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery

Laura Slattery is an Irish Times journalist writing about media, advertising and other business topics