Monday 23 September 2019

Television review: One 'Nationwide' indivisible

  • Nationwide (RTE1)

'Nationwide' presenters present and past Mary Kennedy and Michael Ryan. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
'Nationwide' presenters present and past Mary Kennedy and Michael Ryan. Photo: Daragh Mc Sweeney/Provision
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

If ever there was a vision of human happiness, it was Michael Ryan, the retired presenter of Nationwide, speaking to Mary Kennedy and Anne Cassin "via Skype from Portugal".

They were celebrating 25 years of the programme, which started when Ryan was RTE's south-east correspondent, and it was felt RTE needed to be more engaged with people and places outside Dublin. In Ryan they found a presenter who was comfortable with all people in all places, because he is just comfortable being in the world in general.

Speaking from Portugal, if anything he was looking even more comfortable than he had ever looked before, wearing a yellow V-necked golf jumper, exuding that sense of well-being of a man who has just enjoyed another nine holes in beautiful sunshine - or perhaps he was anticipating the nine holes that were to come, followed by an excellent meal at the club, and wine.

Whether he was going to or coming from the golf course, he was at this moment a vision of pure contentment, his life's work behind him, reminiscing about his role in this enormously successful programme, with his successors back there in Ireland, his worthy successors.

And who indeed would not join them in these celebrations? Personally, one of the first things I always ask myself about any RTE programme, is whether our old friends the Poor Ould Fellas would be watching it. Of course they would, because they know that Mary Kennedy or Anne Cassin would be friendly and nice to them, in the extremely unlikely event that they would agree to be filmed - that in a world full of badness, here is a thing which is basically good.

We all know that at some level, but we know there is more to Nationwide than its benign disposition. I felt obliged to defend it once when I heard a couple of "real" journalists chuckling at the thought of it, seeing the job that they were doing in the realm of "current affairs" as being innately superior to what they believed was the mere public relations business being conducted by the Nationwiders.

In fact, they were deeply wrong, because while Mary Kennedy is clearly not an investigative reporter, she is not in the advertising game either. She is not "talking up" things that don't deserve to be talked up, she is talking up things that are already up, things of some quality.

If I see a ceramic artist doing whatever ceramic artists do, on Nationwide, I will know that this is an excellent ceramic artist, excellent enough to be able to get on the telly without paying for it. At which point I will see absolutely no reason why Mary Kennedy, or indeed Anne Cassin, will not be displaying all the enthusiasm they can muster for the task.

But if I am watching, say, a Fine Gael spokesperson on a current affairs programme, I will know with equal certitude that the only reason this is happening is because that person is from Fine Gael - not because he or she is necessarily good at anything, just because our world is organised in such a way that certain parties are allowed to occupy our airwaves as a matter of routine, regardless of the value of what they are saying.

The Fine Gael Ard Fheis received much coverage last weekend, though it had very little intellectual or any other kind of merit. Yet the sort of media people who will be devoting their energies to such events will somehow feel they are on higher ground than Nationwide featuring the work of people who are really talented - you are infinitely more likely to see a genius on Nationwide than on The Week in Politics.

There is a basic level of quality control in what is disparagingly called the "magazine" format, that is never acknowledged by the "hard" types, probably because they just don't see it.

So Nationwide is more than just a boon for the Poor Ould Fellas, it is a show with which any discerning person can be comfortable - maybe not as comfortable as Michael Ryan, speaking from Portugal, but then you can't have everything.

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