TG4 beats budget constraints with a lively homegrown drama line-up

Audience figures are capped by non-Irish speaking viewers’ resistance to subtitles

Fir Bolg, featuring Caroline Morahan and Séan McGinley, is one drama to watch out for in TG4’s autumn schedule

Fir Bolg, featuring Caroline Morahan and Séan McGinley, is one drama to watch out for in TG4’s autumn schedule

 

One of those unfortunate calendar clashes hit TG4 and TV3 this week as both stations sent out invitations for their big new season launches for the same time on the same day – lunch time in Dublin yesterday.

TG4 blinked first, changed its date, and its big screening shin dig took place on Tuesday, when the Galway-based station laid out a lively mix of programming for the year ahead.

It’s certainly varied and it’s strong on drama – one in the eye for other stations who explain away their skimpy drama offering on budget constraints – as well as range of history and culture themed documentaries.

Drama

The first of its dramas to air will be Klondike, a four-part series which starts next Tuesday. The drama follows three Irish brothers as they join the 1895 gold rush, heading north from Montana to Alaska.

Filming on the other side of the Atlantic was beyond the €1.6 million budget so the location for the mining town of Dominion Creek was constructed on the grounds of the Glengowla mines outside Oughterard.

The station’s new comedy Fir Bolg kicks off after Christmas and if the idea and cast are anything to go by, it should be worth watching. It’s the story of a band of crusty old trad rockers who were big back in the day but after an acrimonious split haven’t seen each other for years – until a chance meeting prompts a one-gig-only reunion.

It features Seán McGinley, Don Wycherley, Aonghus McAnally, and Caroline Morahan, with cameos from Patrick Bergin, Liam Cunningham, Stephen Rea, Amy Huberman, Paddy Moloney and Brendan Grace.

The budget for Fir Bolg was “around €1million” says TG4 head of programming Micheál Ó Meallaigh, who puts having strong drama in his schedule high on the list of priorities. The three-part Wrecking the Rising for next year, with a €1.5 million budget, is the station’s 1916 themed drama which follows three accidental time travellers whose presence in Dublin threatens to change the course of history.

Viewers not proficient in the Irish language are proving difficult to reel in for TG4’s often fine dramas though. The recent series An Bronntanas was a solidly produced, pacey, modern drama with a good story, but would have struggled to attract an audience of 50,000, says Ó Meallaigh. “People are put off by subtitles for dramas,” he says, adding that new dramas will be action- than word-based. To put those figures in context, the first episode of Charlie on RTÉ in January was watched by an average of 851,700 viewers.

Strong numbers

I predict strong numbers though for at least two of TG4’s new offerings. Suas is a documentary exploring the uplifting story of how, 15 years ago, the rumour went round that the men of Ringaskiddy in Cork were perkier than they had been because of fumes and dust from the nearby viagra factory. Two film scripts about it were shopped around Hollywood at the time.

The perfectly daft sounding Pioc do Ride is a 13-part dating show where the contestant must pick their date after examining their car, or tractor or bicycle.