Sunday 25 February 2018

Is a former Late Late Show presenter really the best UTV Ireland can come up with?

Pat Kenny comes down the steps of the Late Late studio in Montrose for the last time
Pat Kenny comes down the steps of the Late Late studio in Montrose for the last time

Gareth Naughton

Like a prodigal son who never truly went away, Pat Kenny has announced his return to television screens in early 2015 after an absence of 18 months.

Undoubtedly, UTV Ireland will consider this a major coup. They have already raided the upper echelons of TV3 management and their line-up includes some big ratings grabbers like Coronation Street and Emmerdale.

But Kenny’s return begs the obvious question: was he ever missed?

I dare say that for a large swathe of the population the response to that question is a resounding no.

It is not that Kenny himself is not a skilled broadcaster. He is a clever, erudite man whose obvious enthusiasm for the minutiae of any given subject is evident – sometimes painfully so for his interviewees. It’s just that we prefer him on radio.

His transition to Newstalk has been fairly seamless, the ratings may not be at blockbuster levels yet but it’s fair to say that his mid-morning show is more than holding its own against Today with Sean O’Rourke in terms of quality and variety. And it is true that, as Ryan Tubridy enviously said recently, Kenny seems like he has had a new lease of life.

But he hasn’t transformed so entirely that we have forgotten the litany of excruciating moments that define his ten years at the helm of the Late Late Show. Brigitte Nielsen and her boot. That unseemly spat with an ungrateful competition winner over the Toy Show tickets. The terrible moment when that moron Pete Doherty from Babyshambles got the better of him by asking him if he could name one song that he had written and Kenny had to admit that he couldn’t (though, in truth, who can?).

Kenny says that he wants to do something “creative and new” at UTV Ireland presumably in the current affairs space where he is most comfortable. But he tried that with The Frontline and, although it was no disaster, that programme will only be remembered for the Presidential election tweet debacle and when Jack O'Connor incurred his wrath with his 'trophy houses' comment.

Which brings me to a wider point about television broadcasting in Ireland. Is a former Late Late Show presenter really the best that UTV Ireland can come up with? Could they not have taken a punt on someone fresh and exciting rather than go back to the same tedious well of presenters who have already been squeezed into oblivion on the never-ending merry-go-round of RTE broadcasters interviewing each other?

I suppose we should, at least, consider ourselves blessed they didn’t try to hustle Byrne out of the retirement he never actually took.

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