Saturday, 4 July 2015

1916 Irish OTR

TV 3's Pressure Point & Room Full of Empty Clappers

I have written in the past on the history of Irish TV quiz shows and last year I had a look at it from the inside. I spotted an invitation to be part of a new TV game show produced by TV3. Following a written application I was invited for a casting session in the Mont Claire hotel near Merrion Square. In the bar we were asked to fill in an application form and handed hand written name badges.

We were told that they were trying to weed out those who genuinely had a good general knowledge and those who just wanted their fifteen minutes of fame on TV. The prize ladder was to be €50 up to a maximum of €200, so it wasn't exactly going to be either Who Wants to be A Millionaire or the Weakest Link. In small groups we were taken down to another room where the casting director Gordon explained the rules and mission of 'Pressure Point'. We stood in a semi circle and one of the producers acted as the host. With bits of paper on the floor representing our 'Lives' we acted out the game. After fifteen minutes we were thanked and left.

On February 3rd, I received an email to confirm I had got through the auditions to the actual recording of the show.

"Hello again and congratulations on making it to the final stage of TV3s new quiz show Crossfire (previously Pressure Point)
We are delighted to have you as one of our contestants in the general knowledge quiz where you will have to push your fellow players out of the game with correct answers!
We would be delighted if you could join us in our HD studios in Ballymount in Dublin on Thursday - February 27th at 9am.
Please arrive on time as on the day we will have a lot of stuff to go through with you before you get to play the game. We will brief you on the rules of the game, get you familiarised with our amazing new set, we will have you fed and watered all before hair and make-up and then it’s time for you to play Crossfire!
It will be a great day out and we are really excited to have you as part of the show.

I arrived at Ballymount and parked up the car. I was greeted at the door and taken to the green room where chatted nervously with other contestants. We were offered light refreshments and the guys and gals tried to put us at ease. There was another semi run through of the game and then one by one we were called out to make up. 

With their new Sony HD studios being used, make up was applied thick and fast with a spray gun to take the shine off my baldy head. Another short wait in the green room and the four contestants for the show I was to appear on was taken to the studio. A large room was a brightly illuminated stage area. To the left was one of the dolly cams and over to the very right was the floor manager's area. 

There was a slight delay due to electrical technical difficulties that seemed to agitate many of those on the stage floor. Sean Moncrieff, the show host arrived 'on set' but had no interactions with any of us until we were all in place on the stage. The entire series of twenty episodes were being recorded over a small number of days.

We were eventually taken to our podium places while cameras and lighting moved into place. Needless to say I didn't win and realised that it seemed to depend more on your podium position rather than your depth of general knowledge. 

'The 20-part, half-hour show features four competitors attempting to force each other out of  the game during three rounds of general knowledge questioning, with the ultimate aim of winning €2,000. (More than the €200 we were originally told of.) The aim of the game is answer correct questions to take out opponents. Each player has ten lives on their podium, answer correctly and a point goes into the centre pot. You can collect up correct answers to hit an opponent with, and steal questions they get wrong.'

The series started on TV 3 on Friday nights beginning on March 28th 2014. The episode I appeared on aired on TV 3 on June 6th and was repeated later on their sister channel 3e. One of the most unusual aspects of viewing the show was the generous applause by the audience as we answered questions or reached the next round but alas the studio had no audience and like M*A*S*H added a laugh track, Crossfire added a clapping track for added effect.

I did force a re-ask of a question from the host as I jumped the gun with the answer before our esteemed host had earned his fee and given me the choices. Then before the show begun we were all asked to look with interest in each of our fellow contestants probably to be cut in at the edit stage. It was all very formulaic.

To be honest it was a great experience especially the effort I put to 'please do not swear on camera as we are on a tight schedule.' 

Friday, 3 July 2015

TV 3, The Early Days

With the sale of TV 3 to UPC Ireland announced today (subject to Government approval) it may be timely to look back at the early days of Ireland's first commercial TV station.

When the Independent Radio & Television Commission offered a national radio franchise for a commercial channel a number of submissions were made to the Commission. One of these bids was TV 3 headed at that time by Paul McGuinness (Manager of the group U 2) and Windmill Lane Studios who had already set up a news division and had won the contract to provide live television coverage of Dail Eireann proceedings. One by one their competitors withdrew from the race and in April 1989, TV 3 was awarded the contract and the consortium planned to be on the air by the summer of 1990.

The proposal initially was the TV 3 would broadcast on the new MMDS system which was being licensed at the time to bring multi - channel television to areas not cabled. This plan was reviewed when it became apparent that the MMDS system would not be in place for TV 3 to go on the air. The Minister for Communications gave TV 3 permission to broadcast on UHF.

In October 1991, the IRTC withdrew the licence from TV 3 as no start date was imminent. The IRTC readvertised the franchise but TV 3 took their case to the High Court claiming that the IRTC were wrong to withdraw the licence. Mr. Justice Blaney agreed with TV 3 and the licence was returned to chief executive James Morris but he claimed that the station had already lost thirteen million pounds by not being on the air.

In September 1995, Ulster Television decided to take a forty five per cent stake in TV 3 but exactly one year later U.T.V. pulled out of the deal leaving TV3 struggling for investors to generate the required capital to go on the air. One of the shareholders in Ulster television, CanWest Global, who held a 29.9% stake in the Northern station, entered into negotiations with TV chairman James Morris and came to the rescue of the yet to go on air station. The Winnipeg based Canadian broadcaster controlled seven stations in their native country, TV 3 and TV 4 in New Zeeland and a controlling interest in Australia's Network 10. CanWest took UTV's share joining James Morris, Windmill Lane Pictures, U 2 manager Paul McGuinness and accountant Ossie Kilkenny as shareholders in TV 3.

Nine years after first being awarded the licence on September 9th the TV 3 test card appeared on screen.  TV 3 was launched on September 20th 1998 from their purposely built studio complex on an industrial estate to the west of the city at Ballymount. At five thirty p.m. An Taoiseach Bertie Ahern T.D. switched on the new channel with their first programme titled 'This Is TV 3', a comedy revolving a Dublin family being shown around TV 3's headquarters. At 6p.m., TV 3 News fronted by Alan Cantwell and Grainne Seoige, who had been poached from T na G, aired but TV 3 would lose the head to head battle with RTE and in early 1999 announced that instead of their 6p.m. and 11p.m. news programmes, news bulletins would be broadcast at 5.30p.m. and 7p.m. and their normal 11p.m. news programme.

One of the early success stories on TV 3 was the weatherman they poached from 98FM, Martin King. His energetic delivery of the weather led to a shake up of RTE's weather slots. The only home produced programme on opening night was the start of a docu-comic adventure series fronted by comedians Messer’s Rooney and Tylac. Much of TV 3's early programme schedule was dominated by American imports and BBC's Eastenders. Chief Executive Rick Hetherington signed a major movie deal to guarantee the biggest releases for exclusive transmission on the new channel.
Ratings for opening night was put at 900,000 which would not be bettered until November 19th when TV 3 covered the Yugoslavia versus Ireland  soccer game for which TV 3 bought the rights to and the rights to all the away matches in the European Championships. Over one million viewers tuned into TV3's coverage.