RTE launches Christmas TV list in stormy weather

RTE rolled out its Christmas schedule yesterday at a press conference at Scruffy Murphy's pub in Dublin, complete with Santa, …

RTE rolled out its Christmas schedule yesterday at a press conference at Scruffy Murphy's pub in Dublin, complete with Santa, mince pies and a barber-shop quartet singing carols.

The station will screen Michael Collins and The English Patient as its major movies during the holiday season. Musical attractions will include Westlife in concert, the controversial Messiah XXI and Spice Girls - The Movie.

Michael Collins, starring Liam Neeson, Julia Roberts and Aidan Quinn, and directed by Neil Jordan, takes pride of place on the Christmas Day schedule. The main feature on St Stephen's Day will be The English Patient.

Special editions of Fair City, Glenroe, Ballykissangel and Coronation Street will also be shown, as well as a Christmas Day edition of the popular satirical show, Bull Island.


RTE also took the opportunity to answer its critics and to address such thorny issues as falling ratings, increasing competition, and the looming threat of redundancies at the station. Mr Joe Mulholland, RTE's managing director of television, chose not to comment on the latter, saying only that the station management was in negotiations with the unions.

He did, however, have plenty to say about how "extraordinarily well" RTE was doing in such a tough marketplace. The proceedings were opened by Pat Kenny, who revealed that his New Year's resolution was to "avoid toxic people, especially toxic people who write". On the Late Late Show's reported drop in ratings since Kenny took over as presenter from Gay Byrne, Mr Mulholland repeated Kenny's claim earlier this week that the Internet may be partly responsible for the decline in audience. "Young people are surfing more and more," Mr Mulholland explained. He also cited the increased choice offered to viewers by cable TV and satellite stations.

Comparing RTE to its British counterpart, the BBC, Mr Mulholland claimed that the Beeb enjoyed only a 32 per cent audience share, despite its vast resources and commitment to quality programming. "RTE has over a 50 per cent audience share nationwide, and a 44 per cent share in multi-channel land. We are doing incredibly well in holding on to our audience."

Mr Mulholland also addressed the imminent axing of arts programmes Later With John Kelly and Cursai Ealaine, saying, "I am personally committed to maintaining our arts programming, and to strengthening it."

He even touched on the stormy topic of the weather, announcing that he had personally invited one of the reinstated meteorologists, Dr Gerry Fleming, to the reception.

The schedule features the major Millennium Eve production which will be on air for 24 hours from 9 a.m. on December 31st to 9 a.m. on January 1st 2000.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist