Friday 28 October 2016

Has square peg Pat Kenny found a Round hole that fits him?

Signs are that Pat Kenny in the Round plays to its host's strengths

Pat Stacey

Published 11/05/2015 | 12:06

Pat Kenny on In The Round. Picture: Barry McCall/UTV
Pat Kenny on In The Round. Picture: Barry McCall/UTV

It looks like UTV Ireland might, bit by bit, small step by small step, be finally getting its act together, at least in terms of programming. The last time anyone looked, there didn’t appear to be any major upswing in its audience share.

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Yet there have been subtle but noteworthy changes elsewhere, as the Dublin-based arm of the Northern Irish broadcaster seems to be gradually pulling its schedules more into line with UTV proper.

Saturday evening hit Ninja Warrior and new Sunday night wartime drama Home Fires go out on UTV Ireland at the same time as on UTV and the other ITV network stations.

The channel is also simulcasting several other ITV series, including Sunday Night at the Palladium, the sitcom The Delivery Man (Wednesdays) and the consumer show Fraud Squad (Thursdays).

There are still glaring differences, of course: no Champions League matches midweek, for instance, and no Britain’s Got Talent on Saturday nights. Then again, these are already available from TV3 and RTE2, which shares the football coverage equally with the Ballymount broadcaster, so viewers can hardly scream deprivation on this one.

The newcomer has also shown it’s capable of generating a hit of its own making in Christine Bleakley’s Wild Ireland, which has turned out to be unexpectedly enjoyable and drawn warmly approving reviews – a rare happening indeed for a celebrity travelogue.

Tonight sees the fledgling channel unleash, after weeks of drip-fed hype, its Big Kahuna: Pat Kenny in the Round, the shiny new vehicle for the erstwhile host of The Late Late Show and The Frontline.

To say UTV Ireland’s fortunes are riding on the show, filmed before a live audience in the Round Room of the Mansion House, is a wild exaggeration; there’s no doubting its importance, though, to channel and host.

UTV Ireland hasn’t exactly set the world on fire and will be hoping Kenny can give its audience a bounce. Kenny – who’s made no secret of the fact that his departure from RTE after 41 years was prompted by the axing of The Frontline – has his own point to prove.

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During his 10 years at the helm of The Late Late Show, it was always the light entertainment elements of that uniquely sprawling entity that made him look like a square peg in a round hole. The big man has never been terribly good at small talk with celebrities, particularly ones not on his cultural radar. It’s interesting, then, that In the Round is being marketed as “an entertainment show” – though UTV Ireland has stressed it will be a completely different beast to Piers Morgan’s Life Stories, which the format superficially resembles.

Among the guests confirmed for the initial batch of five shows are singer Lulu and astronaut Chris Hadfield, whose rendition of David Bowie’s Space Oddity while aboard the International Space Station went viral. There have been whisperings that tennis great Martina Navratilova has also been booked.

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Hadfield was initially announced as the first guest, but in fact the series kicks off tonight with former Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte. The two short clips released in advance show Harte reflecting on his career and talking movingly about the murder of his daughter Michaela while she was on honeymoon in Mauritius.

While it would be wrong to infer too much from this brief footage, it’s immediately reminiscent of the longer, more serious items with which Kenny always seems most at home. Maybe this time the square peg has found a ‘Round’ hole that’s an ideal fit for his talents.

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