A toast to Irish prime-time

Hello and Happy St. Patrick’s Day to you.

“Ireland, Ireland, damp sod of earth/lost on the surf of the North Atlantic/Ireland, Ireland, mountains and mist/Vodka and chips, it’s so romantic.”

Those are part of the lyrics to an alternative anthem for Ireland, composed by a couple of fellas engaged in tomfoolery named the Duckworth Lewis Method. Ireland is our topic today. The Irish TV racket in particular. A dose of St. Patrick’s Day sobriety, if you will: Television in Ireland. And what we can learn from it.

The main broadcaster in Ireland is Radio Telefis Eireann (RTE). A public broadcaster, like our CBC, it is, like CBC, a hybrid of public and commercial. There are commercials on RTE TV channels (there are two) and radio. Here’s an interesting stat: For the period January/February, 2010, 19 of the Top 20 programs watched in Ireland were on RTE Television; 17 of them were home-produced by RTE.

Today is a national holiday in Ireland and you may be wondering what RTE is airing. Even if you weren’t wondering, I’ll tell you.

At 6 p.m. on RTE One, there’s The Angelus. What’s that? A religious picture appears on the screen and church bells ring for 60 seconds. You are meant to pause and pray. For years, The Angelus has been a bone of contention in Ireland. But nobody seems willing to get rid of it.

At 6:01 p.m., there’s the RTE News, helpfully called Six One. It goes on for an hour with the usual news, weather and sports. Meanwhile, on the competing channel, TV 3, at 6 p.m. it’s The Singing Priests, a doc about three Roman Catholic clergymen who signed a £1-million recording contract in 2008. Go figure. At 7 p.m. on RTE, there’s Nationwide, a newsmagazine program focusing on regional stories.

At 7:30, it’s time for Fair City, a four-episodes-a-week soap opera set in a Dublin suburb. Fair City is the most-watched drama in Ireland and known for its realism. It has featured storylines about rape, suicide, prostitution, drug addiction, incest and mental illness. More akin to EastEnders thanCoronation Street, it’s widely considered a triumph for RTE. Tonight, “Tracey takes Ben out to see the St. Patrick’s Day parade but she manages to lose him, and Bob is annoyed to find out Carol will be his boss for the day.” About half the characters have the surname Doyle.

At 8 p.m., it’s Off the Rails, a lifestyle show. Tonight, one Emma Fogarty, a 21-year-old, gets a fashion makeover, and Una Healy of the band the Saturdays takes a tour of Thurles, North Tipperary, where she grew up. Thurles is a town well-known to me. Never liked it. Home to many schools and a horrible industrial park, it is a hotbed for the Gaelic game of hurling, the Gaelic Athletic Association having been founded there in Hayes Hotel in 1884. According to the sister, on a recent visit to Hayes Hotel the bar could not provide her with a glass of port. But I digress.

Next it’s Health of the Nation. Two doctors visit Cork, where “they treat cases of chronic acne, debilitating back pain and severe tonsillitis. Also, skin cancer is the medical issue of the week.” At 9 p.m., it’s the evening RTE News. A news anchor sits at a desk, and reporters in the field file stories – unlike our CBC, where the anchor stands on a stage for a while and then stands behind what looks like a bar counter, and reporters walk up to him and explain stuff while looking awkward. Among the highlights on RTE Newsthese days is the weather, delivered by Jean Byrne of the Irish National Meteorological Service. Byrne is described as looking “like a young Anjelica Huston,” and her selection of clothing set trends in Ireland.

The News lasts 35 minutes and then it’s the Irish-made movie (produced by RTE and the Irish Film Board) The Eclipse. It’s about a depressed widower (Ciaran Hinds) living in a quiet seaside town; his premonitions and visions of ghosts heighten when he meets a visiting horror novelist (Iben Hjejle). Love might blossom but for the existence of a rival author (Aidan Quinn).

Finally, at 11:10 p.m., RTE gets around to acknowledging the day that’s in it, with St. Patrick’s Festival Highlights. Presenter Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain hosts “highlights of the patron saint’s day celebrations from across the country.”

What do we learn? That RTE keeps it simple, I guess. It abides by the tastes and interests of the audience. It cultivates interest in its own TV personalities. It airs a lot of soaps, lifestyle shows, chat shows and movies. It airs U.S. network shows (Brothers and SistersCougar TownCriminal Minds,CSI MiamiDesperate HousewivesFlashForwardGrey’s Anatomy) out of prime time or on its alternative channel, RTE Two. This works.

“Ireland, Ireland, you are the best/Place to the west of Wales and Scotland/ Sometimes it’s heaven, sometimes it’s hell/ But I’d rather be Irish than anything else.”

Airing tonight

Criminals Minds (CTV, 8 p.m.; CBS, 9 p.m.) is relentlessly creepy tonight. The focus is on a woman suspected of being a long-time child abductor and murderer. The episode is directed by cast member Matthew Gray Gubler, who plays the young, long-haired genius profiler Dr. Spencer Reid.

Celtic Woman (Bravo!, 9 p.m.) is a gaggle of comely Irish women singing their hearts out about love and stuff.

Addicted (TLC, 10 p.m.) is a new, lurid series that “follows the lives of individuals struggling with addiction as they work with interventionist Kristina Wandzilak,” a former drug-addicted prostitute who turned her life around.

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