Red Rock, TV3's new soap launches this week. Ed Power went behind the scenes to meet some of the cast and crew.
ON A greasy winter afternoon, the former John Player cigarette factory in Inchicore is conspicuously lacking in show-business glamour.
From the outside, the hulking warehouse is one among many grey, low-rise buildings that proliferate across this somewhat dystopian stretch of west Dublin. The only distinguishing feature is the jumpy security guard anxious to know what you are about as you near the gate.
Inside, the scene is very different. Spread across the interior of a huge, chilly warehouse are several mocked-up living rooms and kitchens. Squint and you could be in a poorly-insulated Ikea showhouse. Around the corner, meanwhile, the complex contains a replica Garda station, with holding cell, front-office, and rest-room outfitted with a snooker table (cop-shop standard issue apparently).
This is the set of Red Rock, TV3’s new €7m ‘police procedural’ soap and a key strand in the network’s bid to fend off newcomer UTV Ireland. Unfolding in a fictional Dublin seaside suburb loosely based on Dun Laoghaire and Howth, Red Rock is pitched at two distinct audiences: Soap fans seeking an alternative to Fair City and Coronation Street, and viewers whose interest in crime drama has been whetted by RTÉ’s Love/Hate.
“TV3 was on the lookout for a new, original Irish soap,” says series creator and producer Gareth Philips. “Lots of shows are built around the format of EastEnders and Coronation Street. Those are brilliant and popular. However, we didn’t want to do that again. We wanted to try something unique. Hence the police procedural elements.”
Philips is a veteran of British television, having worked on Coronation Street, EastEnders, and as show-runner for Hollyoaks. He moved to Dublin three years ago and served as script consultant to Fair City. He sees Red Rock as complimentary to the Montrose ratings-winner rather than in opposition.
“Red Rock is pitched as a mainstream show that still feels perhaps edgier and set more in the real world. The problem with contemporary soaps is that they feel slightly removed from reality perhaps.”
TV3 is investing considerable resources in Red Rock. There’s a commitment to shoot 80 episodes over the next two years (on average, and excluding breaks, it will go out twice a week). Commentators have perceived this as a direct response to UTV’s aggressive plans to carve out a share in the market. With two of TV3’s most popular soaps, Coronation Street and Emmerdale, migrating to UTV Ireland, a tooth and claw struggle certainly seems likely.
“TV3 decided to look for a new original show in August of 2013,” is Philips’s deadpan response to a question regarding Red Rock’s role in the looming face-off. “After that they went through a process — and now we’re launching in January.”
For all the procedural trappings, much about Red Rock will feel perfectly conventional. The plot revolves around two feuding families, one well off, the other distinctly low-rent. Occupying the role of the blue-bloods are the Hennessys, owners of the local haulage company, pub, and solicitors firm. On the scuzzy side of the tracks are the Kielys, a criminal clan whose cupboards fairly creak with skeletons.
“There are huge differences between working for RTÉ and TV3,” says Denise McCormack, who plays Bridget Kiely, an “unashamedly sexual and extremely manipulative” matriarch. She will be familiar known to audiences as playing Fran’s wife Linda in the early series of Love/Hate.
“Compared to Love/Hate, it is very different,” she says. “There, you were hardly in the studio at all. Of course, there are parallels also. I was in Fair City for three years: You were in a studio week in, week out, so the structure was similar.”
To ensure accuracy, TV3 has retained as a consultant a retired garda of 25 years experience. However, the series will not be a hagiography. Efforts will be made to incorporate ongoing controversies, such as the penalty points affair, into storylines. Mindful of prevailing trends in television, TV3 is eager for the tone to be edgy and realistic.
The success of Love/Hate may mean audiences are more open to a police drama, Philips acknowledges. That said, Red Rock has not been influenced by RTÉ’s gangland juggernaut to any meaningful degree. He would hate for anyone to think TV3 is producing Love/Hate lite.
“Red Rock is pitched as a mainstream show that perhaps feels a bit edgier,” he says. “Love/Hate was very true to life. And what we are doing is true to live in the context of our audience. The timeslot dictates what kind of show you are going to make. We’re aiming for a soap audience. Ultimately, Red Rock has to be its own beast.”
Finding the right timeslot for Red Rock was a tricky affair. Its 8.30pm slot on Wednesday and Thursday means it isn’t up against any of the other major soaps. “We’re not going to go up against Fair City,” says Philips. “With there being so little Irish drama, the last thing we want to do is compete against another producer.
Of course, nothing is guaranteed in television and it is not beyond the boundaries of comprehension that Red Rock might fail to find favour among viewers (consider the opprobrium heaped upon TV3’s 2013 crime drama Deception).
Philips shrugs. All he can do is make the best show possible and hope that the public responds positively. Ultimately, it’s out of his hands.
“Anything you make and produce for public consumption, well, people are going to have an opinion about it. You have to do the best job you can. We have a really great show: it feels exciting.
“The amount of original Irish drama out there is small. This is a big opportunity for the industry — a chance to create something new and fresh. We’re very positive”
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