RTE 2 ...promises, promises
AT TEN O'CLOCK in the evening of Tuesday, June 6, RTE 2 will start its public life with an episode of an anodyne American series called The Streets of San Francisco. The hour of liberation for the single-channel areas is at hand. The denizens of Limerick and Galway should not be knitting garlands of roses for their liberators just yet though, because they'll only be getting an hour to an hour and a half's viewing a night from RTE 2 until November, when full evening broadcasting starts.
The controller of RTE 2 is Dick Hill, formerly assistant controller of RTE 1, and he has begun organising the image and the modus operandi of RTE 2, which will distinguish it considerably from its forebear. For example, all the production facilities for RTE 2 will be portable, consisting of Outside Broadcast or film units drawn from RTE 1. This complies with Hill's intentions that RTE 1 should be the fixed and formal channel, to which RTE 2 will respond by giving alternatives, though not competition.
One of the features Hill is particularly keen on is the use of a presenter with a casual manner and the sort of attitude which will encourage the viewers to believe that he or she is employed by them and is almost in their living-room, rather than sitting under studio lights one hundred miles away. It is a curious idea, one that Hill has based on the style of the Second French television channel. The presenters don't have to have charisma, but they must have presence, the ability to communicate, says Hill.
One of these presenters has already been chosen, but Hill refuses to say who she is, apart from the fact that "she holds an NUJ card". How she and her two or three companions manage we will all find out as we settle into running the long gauntlet of winter nights. These presenters will not be in evidence during the pilot shows of summer and autumn, which are as follows: (10 pm start: 11 pm close, except Wed).
Monday: It's patently obvious. BBC 2 panel game. -Armchair Thriller. Thames Television.
Tuesday: Streets of San Francisco. US cop opera.
Wednesday: Oh no, it's Selwyn Frogget. lTV comedy. The best of Families. US White man's Roots. (11.30 close).
Thursday: Upchat Line. lTV comedy. A sense of Place: Extracts from RTE documentaries.
Friday: Duchess of Duke Street. BBC answer to Upstairs Downstairs.
The autumn schedule allows for twenty per cent home produced programmes, and eighty per cent imported. RTE 1 will still be the main vehicle for news, with bulletins on R TE 2 referring viewers ro fuller coverage on the other channel. One excellent idea is the intended provision of an end-of-the-night news bulletin on RTE 2 with a round up of domestic news and thep full coverage of world news, using Eurovision links for news film. Over the week-end, RTE 2 will provide late night viewing on Friday and Saturday, closing down after midnight. On Saturday afternoon, an alternative to sport will be served up, and it is intended in time to provide up-lifting educational fare on Sunday afternoons.
Two documentary series are planned, one called Another Way, which will examine alternatives to our present way of life, investigating "alternative" education, energy supply, religion. The other will be a provincially oriented programme.
Another weekly feature will be what is provisionally known at the moment as Event on Two, which will look closely at a single provincial event each week. Half of the programmes will be based on things like festivals or fleadhanna that occur on the week of broadcast, the others will be recordings made earlier in the year. Another regular feature will provide a slot for popular interests that RTE has avoided in the past, such as motor car maintenance, or water sports, and so on.
There is to be a series called Second Channel Firsts, headed by Mike Murphy's America, a six-part series fronted by the hearty breakfast boy. That is to be followed by a situation comedy series, an entertainment form of which RTE has been woeful in the past, scripted by two prominent, but unnamed Irish writers. RTE 2 has done the Ayckbourn trick of hiring the actors and actresses before a word of screen• play has been written.
Two current affairs programmes are slated, one featuring provincial matters, the other concentrating on Europe. A serious discussion programme on the media, Printout is also planned. And in an answer to the BBC Open Door programme, A ccess will provide a similar service to com!l1unity groups here, but with John O'Donoghue acting as a front man. Hill says that the •Open Door experience has shown the need for a professional presenter, but he promises "a very light editorial hand". Hmm. Importer series will include a lot of serious drama, including the marvellous but inevitably controversial I, Claudius: other series are Glittering Prizes, Who pays the Ferryman, and Pennies from Heaven. In response to viewer demand, there will be a great deal of British comedy, including Ronnie Barker's Porridge and the follow-up, Going Straight.
Minority interest programmes will also be included; one possibility is for The Old Grey Whistle Test to be pitched opposite The Late Late Show. RTE 2 will not try to trump RTE l's ace of spades. Hill is anxious to arrange that some programmes broadcast in Britain should be relayed simultaneously here. Apparently one of the factors involved in viewer satisfaction is the thought that people in other parts of the country have not seen the programme before. A programme has an extra zing if it has its virginity. And Hill plans to go one stage further by broadcasting British-made programmes before they are shown by British television. That sort of coup involves tricky negotiations.
Just to emphasise the provincial intents and purposes (in the best sense) behind RTE 2, the station will be opened formally in a big ribbon-cutting ceremony in Cork Opera House in November. It is of course utterly irrelevant that Dick Hill and the Chairwoman of the RTE authority, Sheila Conroy, are from Cork.
The prelude to the preparation of RTE 2 followed a familiar pattern in Montrose, involving hatcheting a man by promoting him and infusing new blood at executive level. Just how Dick Hill got his job is one of those curious little stories upon which the wicked minds in Montrose love to dwell.
The reorganisation required for the creation of RTE 2 had left a number of important vacancies open. The posts of controllers of programmes for the two stations were open; so too were the posts of assistant controllers. At the top of the pile there was to be the executive supremo of television, enjoying the imperial title of "Director of Broadcasting Resources".
An un-named dark-horse from England came cantering into the race for the post of DBR, apparently favoured by the then Director-General of RTE, Oliver Maloney. But he was not fancied by the RTE Authority and apparently never came under orders. Which left the field open to the RTE runners.
Muiris Mac Congail, then the assistant controller of programmes in Telefis, applied for the DBR job. So did his boss, the Telefis 1 controller, Jack White. The Editor of the Politics programme John Kelleher applied for the post of Controller of RTE 2. Liam O Murchu applied for both. Dick Hill applied for nothing.
Jack White was appointed to become Director of Broadcasting Resources, Mac Congail was controller of RTE 1. Hill was given the RTE 2 job. Kelleher and O Murchu were appointed assistant controllers of RTE I, although O Murchu is to leave shortly, destination - Bord na Gaeilge. Hill's deputy Ted Dolan who rather intriguingly, got the job he applied for.
It all seemed as if the names had been shuffled around, one extra, Dick Hill's, thrown in for good measure, and then lucky dip time. In fact, Jack White suffered the polite RTE heave-ho into supertax, an upward demotion that leaves him with little power.
In making that decision, the RTE authorities have ensured that the post, which was originally intended to be a powerful one, has been gelded.
The real power below DirectorGeneral level for the time being, resides with the two controllers of programmes, who are in theory supposed to be answerable to White, but indeed are not. More clout will be drained off the DBR position when two more posts come into existence, those of assistant Director-Generals, one of whom will be in charge of administration, finance, engineering and personnel, and the other responsible for programmes.
It is said that White, one of the most experienced men in the station, has no chance of being appointed assistant DG - even if he doesn't apply..