A Holy Show

By Kevin O’Sullivan

Gay ByrneSo the dust has settled on the news that Ryan Tubridy, that doyen of Irish radio and television, darling of grandmammies the country over, will take over as the new presenter of the ‘Late Late Show’ this autumn following the end of Pat Kenny’s ten-year (ten years!) tenure. Kenny’s undisguised desire to return to current affairs broadcasting,  a role in which he sounds so much more comfortable on his radio show than in front of camera, begs further questions of the relevance of the ‘Late Late’. Does anyone remember when the programme was something more than a vehicle for what RTÉ describes as ‘the biggest celebrities the world has to offer’, or, in lay parlance, whatever unknown British celebrity, Irish boy/girlband with a single to push or (when I saw it a few months ago) strange American plastic surgeon pitches highest? Or when its ‘memorable moments’ amounted to something more than those highlighted by Fiona McCann in last week’s Irish Times? The era when the longest running chat show on television (in the world, ever) was, we are told, at the forefront of breaking down taboos and pushing the boundaries of debate in Ireland, famously getting the Bishop of Galway in a twist over women’s nightwear, seem a long way away to TV viewers of my generation. Was it really that radical? Has it, like all things 1960s, been talked up by a nostalgic generation who yearn for the days when things were simpler, everyone walked to school in their bare feet and ate (s)mashed potato from powder in a bag? Or, more likely, have we simply lost sight of its power now that we live in an age of omnipresent news? (There’s a joke about one for everyone in the audience in there somewhere, but best leave it alone.) And, what, if anything, will take its place for historians of contemporary Ireland? Answers on a postcard to Pue’s Occurrences.


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2 Responses to “A Holy Show”

  1. Brian Hanley Says:

    Actually Kevin, allowing for rose-tinted specs from the older generation I think the Late Late probably was significant, if not always neccesarily radical. Remember half the republic, at least, had only one channel for a long time. While lots of people went out on Saturday nights the viewing figures show that obviously lots stayed in as well, and of course the TV was on in pubs etc. Therefore it had the ‘did you see that?’ factor in a way that existed only in the world before hundreds of channels, internet, youtube and iphones. I certainly remember watching the Late Late fairly religiously as a kid, not understanding it half the time, but always kind of knowing that ‘big stuff’ was being discussed. Now I’m sure all sorts of rubbish was often on (the odd lesbian nun, ‘Bottler’ sundry drunks, Peter Ustinov seemed to be a guest every second week and Byrne fawned over his favourites, or worse- I thought the police were going to burst in one time when he interviewed Jane Fonda in a hotel room in London) but I do remember some serious heavy rows, about the North (inevitably) religion, the farmers, ‘youth’ – (the highlight when a couple of punks started dancing in front of ‘Gaybo’ singing ‘Mr.Byrne is a sissy’). Even from the later shows there were big moments- Des O’Malley getting a hard time (having expected a soft one), the Annie Murphy interview, Sinead O’Connor and Fr. Michael Cleary just as the X case broke. You’d be hard pressed to think of a moment on the latter Late Late that had any significance other than the cringe factor (see youtube for Pat Kenny asking a tiny breakdancer if he would be prepared to ‘blackface’ to break the New York scene-honestly, Steve Coogan couldn’t have made this stuff up).
    The nadir was when David Irving was on and was interviewed as if he was just a controversal historian; Irving was never asked any questions about speaking at Nazi rallies in Germany or his links to the far right, material fully available on the web. I often disagreed with Byrne but he would certainly have been well briefed for something like that.
    I wouldn’t hold out massive hopes for it becoming cutting edge again; apparently politics is ‘boring’ for a start.

    • puesoccurrences Says:


      The operative phrase in is certainly ‘the world before hundreds of channels, internet, youtube and iphones’. In a time of only one channel when it started, the Late Late was undoubtedly important. I have plenty of recollections of good shows during the latter years of Gay Byrne’s time (and Tommy Tiernan’s first appearance in 1997 of course) and, to give him his due, a couple in Pat Kenny’s time. But what has happened in the last ten years has been the complete fragmentation of the media in general into completely different viewing habits and formats of programming.

      The idea that politics is ‘boring’ certainly seems to dwell on the minds of those who commission shows that go out at later and later hours of the morning, or repeat the same old cycle. But in a world where a large number of Americans (and probably quite a few people here via the digital channels) get their current affairs news from the Daily Show, there might just be a niche for something that is witty and on the ball enough to get people watching again. Now whether ‘witty’ and ‘on the ball’ are words that fit Irish television at the moment is another matter…

      It has become more and more difficult for the Late Late Show to compete in the new kind of environment, or to keep its relevance in the kind of format it had kept for so long, especially when it is easier for individual programmes to do the constituent parts (music, comedy, etc) better than the ‘Late Late’. If anything gets to the Late Late Show’s level again, it will probably have to come in a completely different package. So I guess I’m back where I started again. Yes it was important, no it’s not important any more, and no, it’s not easy to know what, if anything, will replace it.


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