Friday 15 November 2019

Ray of hope - will Ray D'Arcy succeed with Saturday nights and should Ryan Tubridy be worried?

Ray D'Arcy will be the new face of Saturday night on RTÉ in the autumn. Can he succeed and is his rival Ryan Tubridy worried?

Ray D'Arcy and Ryan Tubridy. Photo: Collins
Ray D'Arcy and Ryan Tubridy. Photo: Collins
Ray Darcy in The Den
Brendan O'Connor
Kim Bielenberg

Kim Bielenberg

The smiling face of Ray D'Arcy is expected to gaze out from billboards and the sides of buses this autumn as RTÉ tries to promote its new signing as its shining star of Saturday night.

The station will go out of its way to try to win viewers for the returned presenter, who will become the latest in a long line of second-string chat-show kings.

Taking over on Saturday night, he will be only one step away from presenting The Late Late Show.

When Brendan O'Connor announced on the Saturday Night Show a week ago that his programme will finish at the end of this season, there was sympathy but little surprise among seasoned broadcasting hands.

Ryan Tubridy, The Late Late Show rival, tells Weekend Review: "I was not remotely surprised. As soon as I heard that Ray D'Arcy was coming back to RTÉ, I thought - well that's Saturday night sorted.

"The dogs in the street in and around Montrosia, as I call it, would have known that was happening."

Another well-known figure on the airwaves knew instinctively that Brendan O'Connor's goose was cooked.

"They wouldn't be paying Ray half a million, or whatever he is getting, just to do an afternoon radio show," he said.

"I think there is wide agreement that Brendan did a good job and he was almost matching the audiences of the Late Late, but Ray is seen as the perfect fit for what RTÉ want now."

Ray, who started his career as a 15-year-old DJ in his native Kildare, is seen as "Mr Reliable", a safe pair of hands who won't frighten the horses.

The generation that watched him as the young straight man, taking the barbs of puppets Zig and Zag and Dustin the Turkey on The Den, are now hitting 30.

Many of these viewers have children of their own and are stuck in on a Saturday night. The hope among the RTÉ executives is that they will turn on Ray D'Arcy's brand of entertaining banter for grown-ups.

Ryan Tubridy, who presented Tubridy Tonight on Saturdays, says: "The real difficulty for that Saturday night slot is the Late Late. You have to box clever. We made it an entertainment show. The guests had to sing for their supper.

"I don't think it works if you try to turn it into the Late Late lite. They should make it an entertainment show and let that be the end of it."

Bosses in RTÉ will hope that D'Arcy will bring with him the sizeable audience he attracted as a presenter on Today FM until he left in December.

For much of his time at Today FM, Ray D'Arcy was the only presenter from an independent station to break into the top 10 in the radio ratings.

The most recent figures for 2014 show that in his final year at Today FM, D'Arcy was attracting 215,000 listeners. This was 38,000 more than Ryan Tubridy.

Media analyst Paul Moran of MediaWorks says Ray D'Arcy's show on radio had a very high listenership in the 25-44 age bracket.

'If he can bring that younger audience to television on a Saturday night it will be very attractive to advertisers," says Moran.

Pat Kenny, who himself once had the Saturday night slot, this week expressed a certain scepticism about the replacement of Brendan O'Connor by D'Arcy

"If Brendan was pushed out by RTÉ, it is very strange because he was doing very well," Pat said in an interview. "It's been a long time since Ray has done successful television so it's a gamble."

Given RTÉ's record of failed chat shows (does anybody remember Limelight with Carrie Crowley?), Pat Kenny may be right in suggesting that replacing O'Connor's successful show is a gamble.

However, Kenny is not an entirely neutral observer. The former RTÉ veteran and Newstalk presenter is starting his own chat show soon.

The latest word from UTV Ireland is that Kenny's new show will air in late April or early May. Pat Kenny in the Round will be filmed in front of a live audience in the Mansion House, and each hour-long show is expected to focus in-depth on just one or two guests.

There had been speculation that Kenny's show will be broadcast on a Saturday night, but that now seems unlikely if it could be up against D'Arcy.

Neal Cummins of UTV Ireland said: "We will keep an eye on what competitors are doing, and they keep an eye on what we're doing."

Ray D'Arcy became a household name extremely early in his career as he took over The Den from Ian Dempsey in 1990.

But since he stepped down from that role in 1998, his career in television has been fitful.

His follow-up game show to The Den, 2Phat, featuring Velcro Girl and Pot Bellied Plop, lasted for two years and has largely been forgotten. However, his ratings soared when he presented the talent show You're a Star for three seasons from 2003.

His reputation as a ratings winner was further enhanced in 2005 after his first night presenting the Rose of Tralee contest in 2005.

The show pulled in 852,000 viewers, compared to 314,000 for Ryan Tubridy in the previous year, but D'Arcy has not been seen much on TV since.

Now that he is flavour of the month back in RTÉ, there is naturally speculation that he is being groomed to eventually take over the Late Late when Ryan Tubridy steps aside.

D'Arcy himself has suggested in the past that the format of The Late Late Show was in need of radical surgery. "The mix of the light and the serious often does not work," he has observed.

Asked on another occasion if he would like to present the Late Late, he said interviewing "washed-up soap stars" held little appeal.

Critics often compare The Late Late Show line-up unfavourably with the A-list Hollywood celebrities that populate the sofa of Graham Norton's chat show over on BBC.

But Ryan Tubridy says the TV environment is a lot more competitive than it was in Gay Byrne's time.

"Gay was presenting the show in two-channel land, so he was blessed," says the Late Late show presenter.

"The landscape has changed dramatically, but we are still pulling audiences of (up to) 45pc. So we are happy with the way it is going."

The problem for Ray D'Arcy in the autumn is that the pool of celebrities available to the Saturday chat show host is even shallower than that available to the Late Late.

"If you are a producer on the Saturday you have to be much smarter when it comes to getting the right guests," said one broadcaster. "There is no point in just interviewing the C-list celebrities that couldn't get a slot on the Late Late. It will be even more difficult for Pat Kenny's new UTV show, because he will be third in line."

During their stint, Brendan O'Connor and his producer Larry Masterson have got around this problem with a mission statement to focus on "good conversation".

The result was a show that has often had good ratings and sometimes created more watercooler moments than its Friday night rival, including the extraordinary interview with the terminally ill teenager Donal Walsh.

O'Connor found that he could attract a higher audience with the GAA pundit Joe Brolly than a ubiquitous rock star like Noel Gallagher.

In recent days there has been speculation that D'Arcy's vehicle will be more entertainment-focused, and try to replicate the success of Ant and Dec's Saturday Night Takeaway.

The popular ITV show relies on videos, pranks, and games; last week's show featured Ant bathing in a tub of baked beans, Dec dancing the tango, and a marriage proposal from a knight riding a unicorn.

The show may have been a huge success for ITV, but sceptics warn that RTÉ do not have the experience or resources to pull off a similar effort.

"I think Ray's show will be more like a traditional chat show, because RTÉ knows there is an audience out there at that time," says one former RTÉ show presenter.

"It will be a revamped version of the Saturday Night Show, with more bells and whistles and focus on entertainment."

'RTE is moving the same old furniture around yet again' - Pat Stacey on replacing Brendan O'Connor with Ray D'Arcy 

Indo Review

Editors Choice

Also in Entertainment

Back to top