Tubridy Vs D’Arcy – are they peddling the same patter on both radio and TV?
Tonight, RTE One viewers will watch a middle-aged man in a suit mug his way through two hours or so of aggressively pedestrian light entertainment. Tomorrow night they'll get to do it all over again – the only difference being that, instead of Ryan Tubridy (gawky man-boy turning grey at the temples) on the Late Late Show, the host's chair will be occupied by Ray D'Arcy (gawky man-boy turning grey at the temples).
Amid all the swooning and chin-scratching over D'Arcy's return to the national broadcaster and his helming of a weekend chat show, what has been overlooked is that fact that, if you squint, he and "Tubs" (as the media is apparently obliged to refer to Tubridy) represent flip-sides of the same, play-it-safe approach to mass-entertainment.
Even D'Arcy's RTE set had a distinctly Tubbs-ian whiff, while the format – interview/musical performance/interview – might have been cribbed straight from the Late Late. Actually, that's probably exactly what happened.
The same may be said of their respective radio slots on the same radio station, RTE Radio One, just hours apart every weekday, which again both assail us with 'lifestyle' content, an indistinguishable churn of touchy-feelie interviews, bland human interest 'items' and wacky side-kick banter (if I had one wish it would be to forever rid humanity of wacky side-kick banter). Would anyone notice if they swapped slots one day, just for the craic?
Granted, their shows both broadcast on Radio One, which is not perhaps the environment within which to push the boundaries too far, but D'Arcy had an opportunity to offer something different on TV.
Compare the D'Arcy/Tubridy offering to chat shows in the UK and America which, in this age of video streaming, are RTE's de facto rivals. Where is the RTE equivalent of Jimmy Kimmel's celebrities-reading-hate-tweets bit? Graham Norton's cosy, 'slebs on a couch shtick – did anyone in Montrose think to emulate that?
Skits, tweets, goof ball stunts – in the corridors of RTE these are alien concepts, to be poked with a (very long) stick, then dismissed as scary and outre.
Instead, we get stale reheatings of ideas past their date decades ago and the gristly spectacle of young(ish) men fronting formats your grandparents might have deemed staid and unoriginal. Can you imagine a piece on the Late Late or 'D'Arcy' going viral? No you cannot.
Who to blame for the double-barreled blast of inside-the-box thinking the Tubs-D'Arcy axis represents? At one level the fault is institutional – nobody in the Irish public service was ever fired for playing it safe and, in that respect, RTE cleaves doggedly to stereotype.
Yet surely the hosts have an input too? When sitting down to plan the new show D'Arcy and his team must have been aware that their baby mimicked in almost every detail the Late Late format – a formula that may have been cutting edge a generation ago but which in 2015 is stultifying passe.
What both the Late Late and the Ray D'Arcy Show fail to account for is the diminished attention span of the modern viewer. In our parents' day, there was nothing to do in Ireland on Friday nights. So you plonked yourself on the couch and flicked on Gay Byrne. He could be good or bad, thought-provoking or cloying. In each case, it wasn't as if anyone had anywhere to go.
Nowadays, we can watch whatever we want, whenever we wish to. Yet RTE continues to churn out middle of the road snooze-inducers.
In a cut-throat broadcasting environment, D'Arcy would have received instructions from above to the effect that his new show had to distinguish itself from the Late Late in every way possible. Instead, audiences have foisted upon them dead-handed improvisations on a theme that ought have been left out to pasture a long time ago.