Monday, January 23, 2012

Claire Byrne is the Late Late Show's Only Hope

RTÉ has a dilemma in regard to the Late Late Show. It is this: the number of people who watch the show seems to exist in inverse proportion to those who actually like it.

If people stopped watching the Late Late, the next step for RTÉ would be obvious and inevitable. But people don’t stop watching. Twelve years since Gay Byrne did his last Late Late Show, the program remains a ratings juggernaut for RTÉ, even though the amount of people who claim to like it is equivalent to the current population of the Great Blasket.

The Late Late is an anachronism. In its glory years of the 1970s and 1980s, there was nothing else. The very presence of people in Ireland talking on television about Irish things was remarkable in and of itself. To think that that the Gay Byrne Late Late was shy about combing the RTÉ canteen is to re-write history. But that wasn’t a problem then, because the very existence of the show was novel and thrilling. Who cared if this was Maureen Potter’s ten millionth appearance? Ireland had taken her place among the nations of the Earth.

That thrill is now long gone. The audience’s sophistication has increased dramatically, meaning that they are less tolerant of the revolving guest list of Pat Shortt, Brendan O’Carroll and someone from Fair City. But they are not so sophisticated as to go watch something else. The nation hasn’t reached that level yet, it seems.

This presents RTÉ with a dilemma. The show must stay on the road because it brings in the money necessary to pay those extraordinary RTÉ salaries, but the standard of show is now so low that it has to be depressing everyone who works in Montrose. It’s time for a change. Tubridy is out of his depth. They need a new host – or hostess.

Miriam O’Callaghan is presented as the Woman Most Likely whenever this discussion comes up, but RTÉ should be a little more daring and give the Late Late Show a 21st Century hostess. Someone who can talk equally well to the Fair City starlets before the break and put the heat on public figures after.

There’s only one choice. It has to be Claire Byrne, and for three reasons.

Firstly, she can do all the frothy stuff, as she does weekly on the Daily Show. Your correspondent has never seen the Daily Show but it’s almost certainly fine, if that’s your bag. Tubridy is fine interviewing the Fair City barmaids too, but it was, famously, a point of contention for Pat Kenny.

But while Tubridy struggles with the grown-up stuff, Byrne is excellent, as she proves daily on the Late Debate on Radio One and used to prove on the Newstalk Breakfast Show. This is the second point in her favour. Claire Byrne understands current affairs. Not only is she is a tenacious interviewer, but she never editorialises. She knows he purpose is to moderate debate, rather than participate in it.

The final reason Claire Byrne would make an excellent hostess for the Late Late Show is less obvious, but vital. She can’t be pushed around.

It’s a small thing, but subtly revealing – the Newstalk Breakfast Show does a paper view every morning. And while your correspondent hasn’t been keeping score, I do have the impression that Ivan Yates always does the broadsheets and Chris Donaghue always does the tabloids. When Claire Byrne co-hosted, they alternated. That says a lot about La Byrne.

If the Late Late Show can be saved, it’s only Claire Byrne that can do it. And if RTÉ send Brendan O’Connor to Mongolia and replace his wretched show with Máirtín Tom Sheáinín’s marvellous Comhrá on TG4, that wouldn’t be a bad day’s work either.