Monday, May 3, 2010

Grainne and GMTV

The following is not my headline, mind....

"At 36, could Grainne still make it big on British TV?"
By Susan Daly
Saturday May 01 2010

It's a brave person who mispronounces Grainne Seoige's name. From the moment she opened TG4's first news bulletin with her crisp, Connemara enunciation 14 years ago, she has been very clear about it. The name is 'Show-ig-eh'.

The male anchor of GMTV's Newshour showed no such reverence this week. Clearly unarmed with a phonetic guide to the name of the stand-in sports reporter on his morning TV couch, presenter John Stapleton breezily introduced 'Granya Soudja'.

Grainne didn't bat an eyelid or attempt a correction. This she has realised: we're not in Knocknacarra any more, Toto. These folks don't care who is topping the gorgeous Gaeilgeoir polls.

Why should they? GMTV (Good Morning Television), the breakfast TV channel owned by ITV, beams out three-and-a-half hours of programming every morning to around 13 million viewers each week, second only to the BBC's Breakfast Show.

There is good scope for a variety of presenting styles because the programme carries different segments, beginning with the early hard-hitting Newshour, followed by a core segment mixing light and topical issues, and ending with 55 minutes of chat with Lorraine Kelly.

GMTV is an attractive destination for an ambitious presenter -- it is where Belfast broadcaster Eamon Holmes began his long career in chat TV -- but is it a reinvention too far for Grainne Seoige at the age of 36?

Ageism is not alien to the competitive UK television industry. Veteran newsreaders Anna Ford and Selina Scott have been vocal against perceived age discrimination and last year there was public outrage when Strictly Come Dancing judge Arlene Phillips (66) was dumped in favour of singer Alesha Dixon.

These slighted women are considerably older than Grainne Seoige, but as she told an interviewer earlier this year: "Well, I don't like to be judged myself but I live with the fact that I'm in a business that will judge me on how I look."

For now though, her recent presenting gig for GMTV from the Cheltenham races has segued into a temporary slot as the show's sports news reader. This week, it was suggested by an ITV source that Grainne has impressed to the point that she may be offered something more permanent. Her RTE contract is due for renewal this summer, and her son Conall is now in Transition Year in school: logistically, it's not an outrageous suggestion. "In terms of age profile, the GMTV crew are no kindergarten babes," says TV producer Larry Bass.

"It's a show that needs real people who have real-life experience."

Kate Garraway, regular co-host of GMTV, is 43 next week. Lorraine Kelly, who presents a self-titled slot, is 50. The other Irish female presenter who has done some reporting gigs for GMTV in recent times is Lorraine Keane, also in her mid 30s.

It's not all good news though -- Penny Smith (51) has just been given an unceremonial heave-ho in the same shake-up at GMTV that has seen Grainne get her chance on the couch.

"I would 100pc disagree that it is too late for Grainne to be making a move like that," says presentation-skills trainer Emma Ledden. "If she was any younger she wouldn't have the life experience or the credibility for GMTV.

"It's not like she was going for somewhere like MTV. At 32, even I would be too old for them now!"

Ledden worked as a VJ for MTV UK -- at the age of 20 -- when she won a competition for new presenters. She went on to present the BBC's youth show Live and Kicking in 1999 but has since returned to Ireland to run her own communications company.

In contrast to the successful transfer of a string of male Irish personalities to UK screens over the years, from Eamon Andrews and Terry Wogan to Dara O Briain, few Irish women have made a similar impact. Liz Bonnin is forging a smart niche for herself on BBC science programmes. Laura Whitmore -- 25 this week -- presents for MTV. Former model Amanda Byram hosted a number of American reality shows and is now co-hosting the BBC's Total Wipeout game show. The only other Irishwoman who readily springs to mind is journalist Olivia O'Leary, who became the first female presenter of the BBC's current affairs programme Newsnight in 1985.

Ledden feels the disparity is not just for Irish women breaking Britain. "Many of the men who have made it are associated with chat shows, and it reflects the same situation here in Ireland," she says.

The three presenters being tried out for the Saturday Night Show are men; Brendan O'Connor, Craig Doyle and Gerry Ryan.

"It's strange they didn't try out someone like Grainne for that, or Amanda," says Emma. "Are women forever destined to be co-hosts?"

It is in this context that the Seoige name has been bandied about this week. With the news that Adrian Chiles is moving from the BBC to GMTV in a £6m golden handcuffs deal, speculation has been rife that he will need a Christine Bleakley-style presenter (his former One Show co-host, also Irish, also gorgeous) by his side.

Stephen O'Leary of O'Leary Analytics analysed the media coverage of Grainne Seoige since January for the Weekend Review. He found that from Monday to Wednesday of this week, "Grainne has generated more column inches this week than any other week in 2010." This period includes much of her time as host of RTE ratings-winner, The All-Ireland Talent Show. A large part of the excitement over Grainne's modest stint on GMTV has been inflated by the hype over Chiles.

Larry Bass, the man behind ratings hits like The Apprentice and You're A Star, feels that, nonetheless, the mixture of news and lighter topical issues on GMTV would suit her.

"I'd still like to see Grainne loosen up a little more on TV. Off-screen she is incredibly engaging and smart and nice, but still sometimes on screen, she can appear a little cold."

His suggestion is that all talent needs time and good direction to evolve, and that UK broadcasters are better at recognising that. He cites the move of Dermot O'Leary from youth TV through to The X-Factor, and now interviewing political leaders in the BBC's pre-election programming.

"Like Dermot, Grainne hasn't come from nowhere. TG4, TV3, Sky News Ireland -- none of those broadcasters would have had her launch their news services if they weren't confident in her. GMTV know they are not bringing in a novice, but she is a fresh new face to the UK audience."

Another Irish TV insider suggests that Grainne has been pigeon-holed as a "shiny-floor presenter" by her stint on The All-Ireland Talent Show and a move to the UK might allow a fresh start. ('Shiny-floor' being industry slang for the type of light entertainment shows where the floor is covered in a 'showbizzy' plastic overlay.)

That's presuming that Seoige dislikes her move from hard news to a frothier agenda. During her three-year stint on Seoige and O'Shea (Seoige, in its last year), she seemed particularly enamoured of her outside broadcasts from the set of Strictly Come Dancing.

And, presuming the UK wants her full-time, who wouldn't be tempted to move to a market where the rewards for making it are sweeter?

"Not many people are on that million-dollar deal, but in my experience the money you make in presenting in England is at least two or three times what it would be here," says Emma Ledden. "It is a very well-paid job."


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