Ed Power: Pat Kenny appeared to be under orders to channel his inner Oprah
A review of UTV Ireland's 'In The Round' this evening
Pat Kenny's first serious foray into television since departing RTE was a curious beast – a fluffy interview show with aspirations beyond mere light entertainment.
The presenter appeared at moments to be under orders to channel his inner Oprah, a task he performed more than adequately while reminding us his true talent is as an inquisitor rather than a holder of hands or dispenser of platitudes.
One issue may have been the choice of guest. Pat Kenny In The Round was billed as a one-on-one exchange with a notable personality and Tyrone football manager Mickey Harte certainly had a moving story to tell, with his daughter Michaela murdered on honeymoon in 2011. However, Harte was a cautious fellow and didn't give Kenny a huge amount to work with, as the Northerner was naturally reluctant to lay his heart out on the floor for the public to gawp at.
Then, you wonder why he was the first candidate for the hotseat at all (other confirmed interviewees include singing astronaut Chris Hadfield and Scottish warbler Lulu). Though a titan in his sport, his selection underlines the suspicion that UTV Ireland doesn't quite understand its target market. To succeed "down south" it must gain a foothold in Dublin and across great swathes of the capital the GAA is gawped at with metropolitan bafflement. Was Harte famous enough to launch Kenny's return to TV? The ratings will surely answer that question soon rather than later.
But none of this was the presenter's fault and he did well, before an audience at Dublin's Mansion House (on a side-note, the minimalist set had an unfortunate resemblance to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?). Kenny steered Harte adroitly through the conversation, always in control without it ever seeming as if he was overwhelming his subject. And he dealt tactfully with Michaela's death, bringing it up early on and posing several reasonably blunt questions (was Harte happy with the investigation in Mauritius into her killing? How was it that the tragedy brought Harte closer to God rather than turn him against his faith? ).
There is a perception that Kenny's natural calling is as old-school newsman and that he can flounder in the cuddlier environs of light entertainment. He gave lie to that stereotype here and the show certainly offered a refreshing alternative to the training wheel Paxman-isms of Claire Byrne Live over on RTE 1. Whether or not ...In The Round boosts UTV's credentials as serious broadcaster is harder to stay. With some heavyweight guests and clearer focus, the series may have a future. For now, it is tangibly a work in progress.