Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Ryan Tubridy to Host the Late Late Show

Ryan Tubridy, new host of the Late Late ShowThe really astonishing thing, of course, is that The Late Late Show has lasted as long as it has. The very fact it survived under Gay Byrne for thirty-seven years is amazing in itself. But once Byrne retired, RTÉ realised that the brand was so enormous that it simply couldn’t be discontinued. The Late Late Show was drawing in far too much money to even contemplate the idea of Byrne taking it away with him on his new motorcycle.

And so it has marched on, presented by Pat Kenny, for ten years. Ten years! An Spailpín Fánach does not know anyone who enjoyed Pat Kenny’s Late Late Show, and yet the viewing figures were consistently huge. Ten years, and never been kissed.

The Irish nation sat at home in their hundreds of thousands every Friday night, during the most prosperous times the country has ever seen, to watch Pat Kenny pretend to be interested in what some B-list bimbo on some C-list English soap had to say about where she buys her shoes, her take on Martin Heidegger and the influence of phenomenology on his metaphysical theories, and why she loves Mamma Mia!

One of Gay Byrne’s countless gifts was that he had an endless appetite for this sort of stuff. Yes, he delighted in guests like Sir Peter Ustinov or Billy Connolly, but he was equally happy whenever Tom O’Connor popped over from the mainland, with limp jokes about golf sweaters. Deep in the hidden heart of him, is it the case that Gay Byrne was never as happy in his life as when he was interviewing Ken Dodd and the Beatles for Granada TV in the early 1960s? Was everything downhill for him after those impossible peaks?

How Pat Kenny must have despised the countless interviews with someone like Andrew Sachs’ grand-daughter, and her three charming friends. Pat Kenny, whatever else you may say about him, is no daw; RTÉ did a heart monitor survey once in the eighties to see what effect the cameras going live had on their presenters, and Kenny’s never flickered one single beat. Remember him on Today Tonight or doing the elections in the early 1980s, with the hair sprayed in place, and the steely silver specs, grilling Jim Kemmy or Martin O’Donaghue?

What a fall from that to “former EastEnder Letitia Dean talks to Pat about the effect being in the soap had on her life, being at her fittest at 41 and her current stint in the stage version of High School Musical in Dublin.” The horror, the horror.

Gay Byrne seemed to be interested in everybody, even if he wasn’t. That was one of the reasons why the famous Mike Murphy hidden camera sketch was so funny – it was astonishing to see Byrne lose his cool. Whereas Pat Kenny struggles to hide his boredom or his contempt. When Kenny tore up the entry of that lady in a competition who wasn’t impressed with her prize the writing was on the wall. Kenny is returning to current affairs now, and he’ll be much more at home.

And so Ryan Tubridy takes over. Every generation, perhaps, gets the Late Late Show it deserves. It is appropriate that Pat Kenny presented the Late Late during the property boom that is now devouring its own tail – Pat Kenny, who fought the battle of Gorse Hill, and ended up paying over one million Euro for one fifth of an acre of ground.

It’s hard to know what Tubridy will do with the Late Late. Miriam O’Callaghan was the obvious choice. She had the current affairs experience with Prime Time, and her very successful summer chat show proved that she could do light entertainment as well. And yet Tubridy has got the gig instead.

The most successful period of Ryan Tubridy’s career was when he presented a breakfast show on 2FM. He succeeded the Rick and Ruth show, and was succeeded by the incumbents, both productions that make Tubridy’s time seem like Jack Charlton’s reign as Irish soccer manager – gilded fore and aft by what went before and what came after. The rest of Tubridy’s output seems something of a mixed bag, making it hard to judge what the new look Late Late Show will be like.

What Tubridy will do with the Late Late Show is limited by the enormity of the Late Late Show itself. It is as much a part of the nation now as the All-Ireland final or Tayto crisps. What is more certain, however, is that Tubridy is very much of his time. A lot of people were hot and bothered about Kenny’s Late Late GAA tribute. One would almost wish for the GAA to celebrate 126 years next year, just to see what Ryan Tubridy would make of it.

For better or worse, Ryan Tubridy reflects who the Irish are now, and is the person to whom the majority of people aspire. The funniest thing that An Spailpín read in the speculation about who would take over as host of the Late Late Show was a squib in Irish language newspaper Foinse that Mairtín Tom Sheáinín Mac Donncha, presenter of Comhrá on TG4, had emerged as a dark horse candidate. Whatever else happens, Tubridy’s Late Late will not be anything like Máirtín Tom Sheáinín’s might have been. Whether that is a good or bad thing we’ll just have to wait and see.

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