In a changing media space, network television executives are trying desperately to stay ahead of the latest trends, as Netflix, Amazon and YouTube continue to pull people away from traditional TV.
If you’re a TV executive wondering how you can get – or stay – ahead in this ever-evolving world of digital entertainment, you’ll take good advice from wherever you can get it. So giving the writer-director who created or co-created Father Ted, Big Train, Black Books and The IT Crowd a good listening to seems like an excellent idea. Except that, as he told Ray D’Arcy on Thursday, Graham Linehan reckons he’s the last person anyone should go to for advice.
"I don’t watch things like Bake Off and stuff like that. None of that interests me. So I might be the worst person in the world to speak to about this stuff."
Graham was in Galway for the FÍS TV Summit, where he was going to take part in a special guest interview. The summit was attended by the heads of all the major television stations on the island and no doubt the talk was all about cross-divisional content creation and the future of the TV landscape. But Graham could only talk about writing good comedy.
"In many ways, this is an extremely good time to be a writer or a producer of TV content, because there are so many more outlets. But at the same time, it’s quite frightening to a dinosaur like me who’s used to the ones we already had."
When Ray asked him how the land-grabs being made by the likes of Netflix and Amazon can be resisted, Graham’s response was that you have to look at making appointment television. The sort of un-missable event TV that everyone’s talking about the next day. But even that might not be enough in the current entertainment climate:
"Our attention is so splintered at the moment that I’m not sure if it works like that at all anymore."
But Commissioning Editors can help themselves if they try to be a little braver, Graham maintains. He singled out the Après Match Election Special, which he watched recently, as an example of really good quality writing and performing, which is confident, clever and so cheap. Traditional television producers like RTÉ can do themselves a favour, Graham says, by being that little bit braver and commissioning more content of the quality of Après Match.
"I think storytelling – in some form or another – will always be very important."
Ray asked Graham how he felt coming over to Galway for the FÍS Summit. Would he get a class of perverse satisfaction from flaunting his remarkable success in front of Ireland’s television chiefs? Graham laughed at the notion of getting perverse satisfaction. There was never any bitterness whatsoever, as far as he’s concerned.
"I’m still fighting against this idea that RTÉ turned down Father Ted – which they didn’t."
Graham has just finished working with another international Irish comedy success, Sharon Horgan – co-creator of the acclaimed comedy Catastrophe, on a sitcom called Motherland, which we can look forward to seeing on the BBC shortly.
You can hear the full chat with Graham, as well as the rest of the Ray D’Arcy Show here.