Opinion: It's Ryan Tubridy's 10th season on Late Late Show but is it playing to his strengths?
Can it really be nine whole years since Ryan Tubridy did his first Late Late Show? It is, and I clearly remember watching that much-plugged interview with Bryan McFadden during an evening shift in a newsroom. I also remember the workmate who intoned, mock-solemnly and very sarcastically, “Wow – this is like our ‘JFK assassination’ moment.”
I could see his point. It was all so…bleurgh. Vapid. Pointless. Empty. After the big build-up, the avalanche of hype – and then nothing much worth talking about. Mainly because McFadden wasn’t talking about much that was of any interest.
It’s a problem that has continued to bedevil the Late Late under Tubridy’s stewardship. The show is pretty underwhelming most of the time, dropping down to boring some of the time.
Now I know it’s customary in these situations to rant about RTE salaries and how Tubridy isn’t worth a tenth of what he gets paid Joe, it’s a disgrace Joe, it’s an outrage Joe. Some mention of how many hospital beds his wages would pay for is also de rigueur at this point.
I won’t do that, though – because Tubridy isn’t the issue. The main hindrance is the quality of guests. No matter how they try to sell it, no matter how hard they try to whip up viewer enthusiasm, they’re just not very interesting.
The new series kicks off tonight and Ryan will be talking to Piers Morgan. There’s more to him than the two-dimensional image suggests, but Morgan is, at one and the same time, both grossly over-exposed in the media and unknown to a large proportion of the Irish audience.
The show will also feature Carlow Rose Shauna Ray Lacey – she has an unusual back-story but essentially this is more RTE in-house cross-promotion – and a raft of sports stars: the Ireland women’s hockey and Limerick hurling teams, gymnast Rhys McClenaghan, hurdler Thomas Barr and swimmer Ellen Keane.
The problem with sportspeople as interviews is this: the reason they’re so good is that they have the single-minded, obsessional mind-set which allows them to repeatedly practise the one set of skills…which also makes them monotonous and uninteresting in conversation. In a way it’s not their fault, they just don’t have much to say.
The most enticing guest is Clare-based diver Jim Warny, who was involved in that almost Hollywood-esque rescue of 12 schoolboys from a Thailand cave this summer. And here lies a possible solution to the Late Late’s quandary.
For me, the show should basically forget about interviewing celebrities. Almost all the really big names now skip Ireland entirely and do their stuff in London. Those who do come here, or our indigenous versions, are on the promotional whirligig for their movie/book/divorce/whatever – and thus not as engaging and entertaining as the Peter Ustinov-style raconteurs of old, who chatted on talk-shows because they enjoyed chatting on talk-shows.
Tonight’s Late Late line-up seems flat and disappointing, but considering how the entertainment industry has changed, most of that is beyond the producers’ control. Instead they should focus more on the likes of Jim Warny: those “human interest” stories which are real, affecting and often powerful.
Tubridy himself has spoken of how, for instance, his interview with Tuam Babies historian Catherine Corless really stuck with him, on a personal level – and it got a huge reaction from the public. Media picked up on the story, social media debated it; it all felt important and timely and somehow urgent: not something you’d often associate with a chat-show.
And Tubridy is very good at those interviews – empathetic, tactful and genuinely engaged. Whereas when talking to celebrities, he can often seem nervous, hurried or even a bit bewildered.
So maybe the programme isn’t playing to its presenter’s greatest strengths? The Late Late could do worse than concentrate on what the show has always done best: shining a light on Ireland for good and bad, delving deep, asking questions, fostering the “national conversation”. The country is full of interesting people – let’s listen to what they have to say, and forget about the second-division stars and 15-minute-fame wonders.