Sunday 23 October 2016

What made The Saturday Night Show the most talked-about show on RTE

As The Saturday Night Show comes to the end of the final run, we look back at a programme that made its mark with warmth and wit

Emily Hourican

Published 25/05/2015 | 02:30

Peaches Geldof and Brendan O'Connor
Peaches Geldof and Brendan O'Connor

The recent interview with Dr Rhona Mahony on The Saturday Night Show was a perfect example of what has become the hallmark of the show - host Brendan O'Connor's ability to just let people speak. Dr Mahony, Master of Holles Street, was a glamorous, fascinating guest. She was also passionate, articulate and intelligent. And from her host she got enough encouragement to keep her going, but not so much intervention as to throw her off or interrupt the flow.

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Along with heart-warming stories of babies who would not have made it without the skill and technology at the disposal of the Holles Street team, she made a good case for a limit to doctors' working hours, and a call for more obstetricians. It was the gamut of life: birth and death, the wonder and tragedy, with some best practice thrown in. The kind of thing that generates conversations the next day: 'Did you see that interview? What do you think . . . ?'

It was what we have come to expect from The Saturday Night Show. It doesn't happen with every guest, not even every week, but it has happened often enough over the last five seasons that there is now a certain kind of debate - frank to the point of being unexpected - that is very much a morning-after-The-Saturday-Night-Show thing. Professor Donal O'Shea was another such guest, sparking off a tough conversation about obesity and what we are - and aren't - doing to tackle it. He even took his host to task for his attitude towards dieting. And he was allowed. "Just shut up and let them talk and you'll be amazed at what they'll say," has been O'Connor's motto from the very start. Simple, very fruitful.

The kind of thing that led to intimate, revealing interviews from Michael Harding, Donal Walsh, George Hook, Kenneth Egan, Una Foden, Pippa O'Connor, David McSavage, often, and Peaches Geldof (above with Brendan), three times. The first time she was still the slightly guarded, precocious child, later, clearly at ease with O'Connor, she was so bright, open and responsive that the tragedy of her early death was felt all the more by those who had watched her.

The touch of badness that came with Brendan, the hint that he might say something downright outrageous at any moment, was undoubtedly as much responsible as his receptive silence. Pussy Riot may not have cared for his style of questioning - lost in translation? - but Sinead O'Connor, dazzling in an interview from last year, clearly got it. As did Georgia Salpa, Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh and Christine Hamilton.

Over the years there have been a variety of 'gates', including, most recently, PinGate, where O'Connor stopped Labour's Aodhan O Ríordain mid-sentence to ask him to take off the 'Yes' pin he was wearing. There was ObamaGate, and of course, Gate-est of them all, PantiGate, which culminated in an apology from RTE, a pay-out, and the first intimations of the Marriage Referendum debate to come.

And always, in the background, a strong, steady commitment to telling the stories of people with disabilities, their lives and challenges, but also their hopes and dreams.

All of this together is why The Saturday Night Show grew, steady and sure, into the most-talked-about show on RTE, the one you didn't want to miss because then you wouldn't know what people were on about all week. The one that finally beat the Late Late, on the first weekend of February, with an audience of 501,900. The one the sociologists will be all over in a few years time, because it tells the tale of Ireland at that time; who we were, what we cared about. The one we will miss, greatly.

O'Connor himself will be back, with a new midweek show. Until that happens, let's take a moment to recall the best of the last five seasons, and tune in for the final time, in the belief it will go out with a bang.

The last episode of The Saturday Night Show is on Saturday, RTE1, at 9.40pm

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