There’s an intriguing initiative taking place in Ireland, where TV3’s new twice weekly drama Red Rock launched last week (7th January). Set in a Garda police station in a fictional harbour town similar to Howth, just outside Dublin, the programme is a co-production between the Irish company, Element Pictures and the UK producer, Company Pictures.
The first episode performed well with an audience of over 410,000 viewers including catch-up, a share of 18% for its first night launch. Reactions on Twitter were also positive, with many viewers impressed by the production values of the soap and comparing it favourably with the long-running RTE soap, Fair City, which was reported to have had an audience of 570,000/36% share.
There’s an intriguing initiative taking place in Ireland, where TV3’s new twice weekly drama Red Rock launched last week.
There’s also another relevant comparison with Emmerdale, which drew an audience of 325,000 on the rival UTV Ireland – the new Dublin-based off-shoot of the UTV, which launched this month and has taken ITV’s big soaps, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, from TV3.
The genesis of Red Rock goes back to mid-2013 when TV3’s incoming director of programmes Jeff Ford announced plans to tender for a new soap. Having written for many years about the strategic importance of UK soaps in the ratings and also having worked at Mersey TV when it launched Hollyoaks for Channel 4 almost 20 years ago, I met Jeff Ford to learn about his ambitious plan, and have followed the project closely since then.
As the tender process got under way, it became clear that there were two potential approaches – a community based serial, like Fair City and Coronation Street, or a police drama, set around a precinct like The Bill which ran on ITV from 1984 to 2010. Given that RTE’s Love/Hate tough crime drama was hitting big ratings, perhaps it was not surprising that the winning tender was one of the proposals for police drama.
Red Rock is scheduled at 8.30pm, nudging the watershed at 9pm, and suggesting that it will carry storylines which are closer to a 9pm drama than, say, an early evening soap might envisage. The marketing and promotional campaign clearly positioned the show as being more edgy than a community soap.
I wonder if Channel 4 will be watching Red Rock’s performance at 8.30pm, following its recent announcement of a school-based project which builds on its successful Educating Yorkshire factual brand. Channel 4’s return to pre-9pm drama (remember it axed the highly successful Brookside soap in 2003) also comes as BBC1’s schools drama, Waterloo Road, reaches the end of its life after 10 series.
There is a sense that the soap formula that has served UK broadcasters so well might be coming under pressure as audience tastes have shifted towards scripted reality.
One big question is how Red Rock will stand up against conventional soaps. There is a sense that the soap formula that has served UK broadcasters so well since Coronation Street first appeared in the early Sixties, might be coming under pressure as audience tastes have shifted towards scripted reality. Rather than re-vamping existing soaps, Red Rock starts from an understanding of the audience’s preference for 9pm crime drama.
A second question is, if Red Rock delivers a strong audience, would a UK broadcaster also contemplate it as a potential acquisition? The idea that UK audiences might take to a soap made somewhere other than Manchester, East End London, Yorkshire, or Liverpool is not really that fanciful – Neighbours and Home and Away proved that a long time ago.
Philip Reevell writes about broadcasting and media matters.