Sunday, May 17, 2009

It's too Late Late for RTE

I'm allergic to media hype so I avoided the coverage of the Kenny/Tubridy switch as much as humanly possible short of abandoning the mass media.

Now that the fanfare has died down, I have a few questions:

Why is RTE feeding its own fantasies?

Managing Director of Television Noel Curran said today: "Taking on the mantle of presenting the longest-running chat show in the world and a key entertainment brand for RTÉ is no easy task. We have thought long and hard about who the right presenter is to bring The Late Late Show into its 48th year and its next incarnation: We're delighted to announce that broadcaster is Ryan Tubridy

The Late Late is not" the longest-running chat show in the world". There is an interesting list of long-running US TV series. Many have been going since the 1950's. The Tonight Show, the classic late night chat show, has been running since September 27, 1954 and is still going strong with Jay Leno. (How I wish we had a current affairs programme to match "Meet the Press" under Tim Russert!)

I suppose this hype is partly to generate advertising revenue and, as a licence fee payer, I can't fault RTE there. But stick to the facts boys.

My second question is more significant: what did the Late Late achieve under Pat Kenny? There is no doubt that the Late Late under Gay Byrne was the most important TV programme of its era, hosting many seminal debates on issues of social and political importance and providing a stage for many aspiring talents. Late Late debates had dramatic effect on how we thought about divorce and contraception, taxation and public services, gay rights etc.

What was the most important debate in the Kenny era?

Gay Byrne had a genius for mixing light entertainment with serious discussion. This sugar-coating was a necessary device to introduce topics that traditionally Irish society refused to contemplate. I found the Kenny-era Late Late to be an incongrous mix, jumping from musical interludes, to phone-in competitions, to awkward chats with audience members, and then to a serious discussion. Worst of all were the attempts at comedy.

Final question: did Pat jump or was he pushed?

His announcement seem to come out of the blue, even the Late Late staff didn't hear until the last minute. Did RTE management offer him Monday nights as the price of shifting him or did he want something more serious than the Late Late? Did management believe his court battle with his neighbour had damaged his image? If so, they forget Gaybo's reputation for "parsimony".

Since I first wrote this blog, the Kennys have given an interview to the RTE Guide saying Kathy gave Pat an ultimatum. Maybe, but that doesn't say much for his planned Monday night show.

I also came across a very bitchy comment by a former researcher. It looks like Pat's Late Late will be remembered for low-lights, not highlights.

The mystery is why Pat Kenny, who is an excellent radio presenter and one of the best radio current affairs interviewers, fails so miserably with the Late Late. This article says that, unlike Gaybo who was obsessive, Kenny did not have editorial control of the Late Late. That would explain a lot. I don't imagine Ryan Tubridy will be given any control.

Fiona McCann has a revealing piece in today's IT. The "memorable moments" she recalls were almost all embarrassments for PK. The one exception was Brendan Gleeson's anger at our "health service" and McCann rightly says PK "allowed him space to talk". That was Gaybo's secret: it certainly worked with Pee Flynn and Terry Keane.

The Seinfeld episode was probably PK's low-point because it was so unprofessional. He was lucky that Jerry was in good humour. Look what he did when Larry King was ill-prepared for an interview:

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