Again, I have to preface this post with an apology for not keeping this up over the last while – it’s been eleven days since the last post, and it’s mad that during Irish Blog Week of all weeks, I haven’t been able to get one together. Academia, as you can always guess when internet silence is involved, has been horrific, and will continue to be for the next fortnight, so if I stay silent then my advance apologies.
Anyhoo – I didn’t get to see it last night, having instead brought The Brother to see the Kaiser Chiefs last night (his first gig! Awww!), but last night the world was given the first episodes of RTE’s new series, Dragons’ Den. Now, as outlined, I’ve been living under a rock for the last few weeks, and so I haven’t really been able to gauge public reaction to how the show was received. Nonetheless, it’s one of those occasions we don’t get very often in Ireland: the local premiere of an internationally-sourced franchise. First it was Popstars, and later Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, swiftly followed by a retaliatory Weakest Link. If memory serves, we were deprived of international formatting until The Apprentice. As if to fulfil scripture, RTE rebound with Dragons’ Den and we quickly get back to wondering when the whole process gets to repeat itself again.
It’s difficult not to accept that one of the driving forces of the increasing homogenisation of the Anglophone world – and beyond, come to think of it – is the cult of superstar TV shows. I don’t mean the Ant & Decs, or the Ryan Seacrest, of the world: I mean the Big Brothers, the Deal or No Deals, and the Pop/American Idols. These are the new Coca-Colas and Microsofts: they are the archetypal global brands of the 21st Century that hold us ransom to their incessant, ominous advertising. They’re nowhere and yet everywhere.
Everywhere except Ireland.
For those of us – and increasingly, in line with the homogenisation, there are more of us – who hold a penchant for international TV, Ireland is a total drought. There are those of us who adore Big Brother, or Pop Idol, or The X-Factor, or Deal or No Deal, but yet wish that Ireland was big and brazen enough not to just be happy it was there, Across The Water. And it is, whether you’ve noticed or not: Ireland’s media still seems to be in adolescence. While Gay Byrne showing the country what a condom looked like was an explosion into the first realms of puberty, and Annie Murphy’s revelation was the gentle coax into sexual activity, Ireland hasn’t really gotten very much farther in its media evolution. The entry of commercial broadcasters is moving to another school; The Dunphy Show vs The Late Late Show is the aggro at the school disco; but Ireland’s media – and certainly its TV – hasn’t grown up yet. We’re happy to let Them Across The Water come up with the money to run Deal or No Deal, or the record deal and bombast to run The X Factor, or to build a bungalow and chuck some cameras into it to run Big Brother. But make them for ourselves? Wisha, poor child, pipe down and do your homework.
There’s no point fooling ourselves. Ireland has only ever imported successful foreign formulas (in the literal sense – we can set up a poxy plagiarism until the cows come home) when there’s money or a threat. Popstars came because Louis Walsh put up the money to run the thing, and some sponsors jumped in to fill the ad breaks. Eircell (God! Remember them? Back when mobile phone numbers starterd with 088 and had six digits?) stuck up the money for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire and lo, TV3 needed to stump up for The Weakest Link to keep up with the publically-funded Joneses. Once Eircell begat Vodafone Ireland, who decided that overpriced 13c text messages didn’t need to fund a TV show, WWTBAM disappeared. TV3 didn’t bother commissioning a second series of The Weakest Link either. Funny that. It’s the same thing now: TV3 scored a hit with The Apprentice so within a month of its premiere, RTE scramble to score its opposite number and BBC Two twin. Watch and see how much longer one series lasts without the other. I’ll lay odds on anything more than six months.
What is it that stops RTE or TV3 (though in going for The Apprentice, at least the latter has at least some foresight and maturity) from taking a chance and pouncing on an international hit? Is it the inevitable mumbling from the licence-payer wondering why their money has to fund the launchpad for the next Alexandra Burke? What else can it be? Nobody expects Belgium to make do with the French version of Big Brother, Loft Story – Belgium gets its own BB and gets on with it.
So why shouldn’t a country with enough character and brashness to produce a thousand songwriters and a million poets, a thousand accents and a million moments, be able to get up off its feet, grow up and do big media projects for itself?
I’ll make the offer to Irish TV companies now – secure the rights to Deal or No Deal and I’ll present it for free. Any takers?