Tuesday 25 October 2016

Television review: TV needs politics minus TDs and sport minus the ex-pros

* Pat Kenny Tonight (TV3)
* Prime Time (RTE1)

Published 10/10/2016 | 02:30

Pat Kenny
Pat Kenny

We need to sort out a few things in this media game. Let us put to one side the challenges of the internet and so forth, and let us decide on a few basic guidelines which may serve us well in the fullness of time.

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For example as we watched the first episode of Pat Kenny Tonight on TV3, we realised that there is nothing wrong with this politics and current affairs programme, nothing at all, except perhaps that it has politicians on it.

There is Pat, as remorselessly excellent as he has always been, in an attractive studio setting - it could have been RTE itself - with a studio audience that might have been bussed across from Claire Byrne Live. Indeed all the usual arrangements are in place for a traditional night of old-time Irish current affairs.

Personally I would leave out the studio audience, because I've seen a fair few of them before, but I suppose they bring a bit of atmosphere to the studio, a bit of life. So we might keep them, but we can't under any circumstances have any more of the lad from Fianna Fail and the lad from Fine Gael and the lad from Sinn Fein.

Because when we see them, we know that in all likelihood they are going to bring us nothing but dead air. And the chances of them bringing us something else are so small, in the year 2016 we really don't need to bother with it. And anyway if somehow they emerge with that once-in-a-lifetime zinger, they will not be lacking in opportunities to release it onto some other public forum but you know what? We'll take our chances on that.

And yet so embedded in the journalistic mind is this idea that you must have "the Minister" on the show if you possibly can, it hardly even occurs to them to see it any other way.

I recall a few years ago when I was asked to put together a one-off feature for RTE's "Prime Time", I marvelled at the great efforts being made to edit the piece down to the exact length that would allow the right amount of time for a subsequent studio discussion to take place - when I humorously suggested to one of the genuinely very talented people working on the show that the viewers might want more of me, and less of "the Minister", my suggestion was taken in that spirit, as a joke.

It was seen as self-evidently ridiculous that you could have such a programme without at least 15 minutes of it consumed by this dead air wafting from the general direction of Leinster House.

And if you still insist that there is really no other way to organise a credible current affairs programme, in a couple of weeks time Pat Kenny Tonight will be going up against Brendan O'Connor's Cutting Edge on RTE1. And while the Cutting Edge will not be trading as a "current affairs" show in the restrictive sense, you can be sure that anything of any current public interest will be thoroughly ventilated thereon.

And you can also be sure that just about the only rule of the game is that "the Minister" will not be sitting there as a kind of automatic qualifier, with a permanent seat at the table, and everything else arranged around him.

Indeed he may not be there at all - and we'll just have to get on with it somehow.


But then I've been trying to make a similar point to my friends in sports broadcasting. To persuade them that in choosing their panels of pundits, they have it all upside down - that only in the most exceptional circumstances should they consider recruiting a former top sports person.

Because even the ones who are willing to tell you the secrets of the trade are so institutionalised by the culture of dressing room omerta, they can't even recognise what might be interesting to the multitudes on the outside.

There are a few exceptions to this, such as Jamie Carragher or Ted Walsh or David Feherty, which reinforces my theory of selection - only in the most exceptional circumstances.....

But they do not listen, they do not know how....

Perhaps they'll listen now.

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