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The future of Irish TV? Home-grown versions of British reality shows

Marketing expert Dave Winterlich looks at why some reality shows succeed and others flop.

Dave Winterlich

IT’S THAT TIME of year again when TV stations give us a sneak peak of their upcoming schedules, and, much like every other year, there are promises that the season to come will be the biggest and best year ever.

So what’s coming down the tracks in the autumn schedules? The common thread is the number of reality TV shows. It’s obvious why; they’re relatively cheap for broadcasters, and it taps into the content-binge culture that exists today.

You would be forgiven for assuming that given the abundance of UK reality TV formats we don’t need any Irish versions. But the TV networks don’t seem to think that’s the case.

British invasion

RTÉ will air an Irish version of the hugely successful Dancing with the Stars franchise (aka Strictly Come Dancing in the UK) in their new schedule.

An Irish version of Gogglebox is also set to hit our screens this autumn on TV3. As a show format, this just shouldn’t work, at any level, Irish or otherwise. It still baffles me, who thought this was a good idea?

But strangely it does work, and it works because humans have an insatiable appetite for voyeurism. We love seeing into someone else’s home, someone else’s life. The juxtaposition of someone else’s car-crash life normalises our own.

I for one often felt better about myself when I saw the posh couple on Channel 4’s Gogglebox knocking back wine seemingly every night as they watched telly.

From what I have seen it looks like Gogglebox will be a big hit for TV3.

Culture clash

But not all formats work when repurposed for Ireland. The Apprentice with Bill Cullen fell between two stools on certain episodes – it didn’t have the integrity of a non-commercially funded BBC show, but it lacked the polish of an overtly commercial American version with Donald Trump. Some tasks worked well but others seemed forced at times as contestants ambled around Woodies getting infomercial style demonstrations about Ryobi power tools.

The Voice, while it had superb production values, just didn’t have the same star quality as its British counterpart. The All Ireland Talent Show (which, by the way, was nothing to do with the hugely successful international “Got Talent” franchise) probably only shone a light on an alarming lack of talent we have.

The show may well have been harder to watch because it was closer to home. We don’t mind British people looking a bit foolish, but we don’t want to look like the eejits we are sometimes stereotyped as, so we tend to judge these things more harshly.

Size does matter

It hasn’t all been bad. The Irish First Dates received an excellent reaction, and Masterchef was another example of an international franchise that worked when localised.

Brian from this season's First Dates Source: RTÉ

The Irish Take Me Out wasn’t any worse than the UK one if that’s your type of thing. There was one awkward moment when a male contestant turned out to be a teacher of one of the female contestants.

That’s the problem with a country as small as Ireland – there’s every chance on the Irish version of Blind Date that you’ll realise you know one of the girls, have previously dated her, or her friend, or she dated your mate.

There’s also the size of the prize. X-Factor can change a winner’s life, and Susan Boyle has done well from Britain’s Got Talent. But what becomes of the winners of Irish talent shows? There’s no global audience; we simply don’t have the scale.

Where, I hear you ask, is Pat Byrne, Ireland’s first winner of The Voice in 2012, these days? He released his unfortunately titled and unknowingly prophetic debut single, ‘End of the World’ in November 2012 reaching the dizzying lows of no. 61 in the charts. This was swiftly followed by his second unfortunately titled single ‘All or Nothing’ in March 2013 which only reached no. 80 in the charts. He has since been dropped by Universal Music and has not yet released any new material, although he plans to self-release an album in 2016.

The Irish public has been spoiled by a talent overspill from shows further afield. Our broadcasters seek to capitalise on that success.

In terms of reality TV and Irish versions, we’re in for more of the same for the foreseeable future. It’s probably only a matter of time before we see an Irish Big Brother or possibly an Ex on The Beach set on the stony shores of Bray seafront.

Dave Winterlich is the chief strategy officer of Dentsu Aegis and Carat Ireland.

Read: Mrs Brown’s Boys voted best British sitcom of the century

Read: The sequel to Rebellion and everything else you need to know about RTÉ’s new schedule

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