Wednesday 20 November 2019

Ivan and Matt Will they have the last word?

The current-affairs veterans are set to host TV3's 'The Tonight Show' together. But is it too much of a grey thing?

Broadcaster Ivan Yates. Photo: Mark Condren
Broadcaster Ivan Yates. Photo: Mark Condren
Matt Cooper

Ed Power

Two middle-aged men in grey suits walk into a television studio. This isn't the set-up for a joke - it's a preview of what TV3 viewers can expect when the fresh-faced tag-team of Ivan Yates (58) and Matt Cooper (51) take over as hosts of the channel's late night current affairs slot this autumn.

With the occasionally bonkers but usually entertaining Vincent Brown retired, the series has been retitled The Tonight Show and will feature Cooper and Yates as co-presenters. The idea, Cooper says, is to combine his more formal journalistic experience as anchor of Today FM's The Last Word with the pundit persona Yates has cultivated fronting various programmes on Newstalk.

The show goes out from 11pm on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays from September 19, with Cooper and Yates on air together and receiving equal prominence. The double-act will share interviewing duties and hilarious comedian Mario Rosenstock will join the show every Thursday, possibly to reprise his Vincent Browne impersonation (also hilarious). Think of it as Britain's Got Talent, only instead of Simon Cowell and David Walliams squabbling over tap dancers from Hull, it will be Cooper and Yates debating the national spacial strategy.

TV3's plumping for familiar fuddy-duddies has generated a predictable controversy. Why not take the opportunity to promote a woman or a younger person? Or, who knows, both! Instead, goes the critique, the network is just giving viewers more of the same. I'm sure Ivan Yates doesn't, for instance, currently front every single thing on Newstalk. But there have been moments when it has certainly felt that way.

The tag-team format itself also seems open to criticism. Are these two professional loud-mouths really going to bring out the best in one another?

While multiple presenters are common in light entertainment, on current affairs they are essentially unheard of. Experience tells us that when two big egos - Cooper and Yates would surely not object to being described as such - are required to cosy up, the results are typically less, not more, than the sum of their parts.

Andrew Marr goes it alone on his Sunday morning show in the UK, as does Andrew Neil on his late night current affairs broadcasts for the BBC.

Yates might point out that he has experience teaming up with Chris Donoghue on Newstalk. However, the chemistry there was that of the old wise (grumpy) sage and the puppyish acolyte. And though Cooper is seven years Yates's junior, it is unclear that he is willing to undertake, or could carry off, the part of wide-eyed neophyte.

Instead, there is surely a danger of TV3 giving us a current affairs version of Statler and Waldorf. The curmudgeonly hecklers from The Muppet Show are amusing precisely because they are out of touch with what is going on around them.

Unfortunately for TV3, the revamped Tonight Show was unveiled just as Yates is taking flak over his return to Newstalk. There the complaint is that the schedules have been retooled in favour of opinionated middle aged men.

Yates joins other sprightly young things such as George Hook and Pat Kenny on prime time as female presenters are shuffled into weekend slots.

Obviously Twitter had a lot to say about this and what it had to say was not complimentary, with Newstalk accused of "grey-washing" its schedule.

This has nothing to do with The Tonight Show - but it does speak to a reflexive fustiness in Irish current affairs and a reluctance to look beyond the same old talking heads.

That's despite the insistence of everyone involved in the new TV series that, behind the scenes, there will be equal gender representation.

Yates has stated the production team would be female "at every level"; Cooper has pointed out that there has always been at least one female senior producer on The Last Word.

A more welcome change, some will argue, will be the shift away from Browne's entrenched left-wing views. Browne's opinions were very much an acquired taste, making his show the very definition of Marmite television. Some respected his tireless championing of certain sectors of society - others wondered if he had discovered a magic money tree with which to keep everyone in the fashion to which they were accustomed.

Yates has already stated the obvious in pointing out that he isn't as left-wing as Browne. Cooper, for his part, sees himself as the journalistic safe-hands of the pair.

On paper, that's a combustive cocktail - but you wonder if it won't just devolve into two men used to the spotlight talking over one another.

To write off the new Tonight Show on the basis that its presenters are current affairs veterans would be to stoop to the mob sentiments of the Twittersphere.

But TV3 has clearly missed an opportunity to set itself apart from the grey legions of news anchors on RTE, Newstalk, etc, and meaningfully shake up the formula.

One middle-aged man on a news programme is probably inevitable given the inherent conservative of Irish broadcasting.

A double helping is surely too much of a grey thing.

Irish Independent

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