TV3 says Kenny backed 'the wrong horse'
But TV insiders say Pat Kenny is a man who has nothing to lose and now we will see a lighter side
TV3 is not interested in poaching Pat Kenny from rival station UTV, station sources have told the Sunday Independent.
In the same week that RTE gave the strongest sign yet that it will not be taking back their former Late Late host, the Ballymount station said Kenny had made his bed with UTV.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, the impeccably-placed source said: "TV3 is an entertainment channel and Pat is not our brand.
"I think the audience has moved on from him. He backed the wrong horse with UTV."
The pressure is now on for the 67-year-old presenter to perform on his new slot on UTV tomorrow night.
And media-watchers are salivating over his head-to-head battle with Claire Byrne.
With the State broadcaster's golden girl in one corner and its former biggest star in the other, television critics are betting on who will be the victor.
However, one veteran television insider explained that it all depends on what your definition of 'winning' is and - financially - Kenny is a man with nothing to lose.
"When Pat Kenny moved over to Newstalk he signed a deal earning between €200,000 and €300,000 plus bonuses for a radio show alone. At this stage of his career, UTV is extra cash in the pocket. It's very good cash, mind you, but it's still not the day job anymore. He didn't need the money. Ego will be playing a part, yes, and he will want it to do well, but he will be enjoying it more with less pressure [on him] than on Claire to perform."
The source added: "Remember, he got around €200,000 in his UTV contract just for these shows alone. That still leaves him free to do other work in a way that RTE didn't."
However, a TV3 spokesperson confirmed that the station was categorically not seeking out Kenny in the foreseeable future.
"Pat Kenny's strength is current affairs, but in Vincent Browne, TV3 has one of the most respected current affairs presenters of our time."
With Vincent Browne as its current affairs kingpin, TV3 is believed to be eyeing up one other talented male presenter outside the station to take over the hot seat once Browne retires.
Pat recently admitted he thought RTE had made a "mistake" by axing his Frontline show - and predicted he would return to his old TV home after a "cleansing period".
However, RTE executives are reportedly unimpressed. "RTE bosses are very happy with their current schedule of current affairs programming on RTE, which is three nights a week in peak-time viewing," an insider revealed.
A separate RTE source told the Sunday Independent this weekend: "I can never see Pat going back to the station again. Once you're gone, you're gone. Look how long it took Ray D'Arcy and Marty Whelan to get back in after so many years away."
On a positive note, the source explained, Kenny will also have a lot of room to relax and let the audience in on a different side of his personality that they mightn't have seen before.
"He will be given far more freedom to do what he wants, he can be a bit looser, a bit more creative in his style and he can kick back knowing that he is not under those same constraints that he was in RTE. He can have a bit more fun on the show. So what I think you are going to get is a very relaxed version of Pat [compared] to the one that people are familiar with."
He added: "On Claire Byrne's side of things, she is immediately on to a winner because she is on a prime-time slot on a prime-time channel, it is very hard not to get viewers where she is."
A separate media source also explained that Claire Byrne had a secret weapon on her side in the form of producer Aoife Stokes.
The young producer in her 30s is the reason the show has managed to attract such a young audience. Young women, in particular, are also tuning in. The show has grown audiences for all key female age groups and significantly for audiences outside Dublin, with a notable increase for women between 15-34 and viewers outside of Dublin.
As one source explained: "It's been noted [in Montrose] to the point that Aoife was asked to give a presentation to a couple of hundred people in RTE on how the show is managing to attract such a large number of young people, which traditionally would have been difficult for a current affairs show."
The media source added, "Pat is a great presenter with years of experience, but at the end of the day is in his 60s. Will he attract 25-35-year-olds? I think the odds are against him."
Regardless of how Pat Kenny performs, however, TV insiders say Claire is already the ratings winner thanks to her platform on the national broadcaster. As one TV source explained: "If you put on a farming hour on that time of night on RTE One, it would pull large numbers. UTV doesn't have the luxury of continuity broadcasting.
"I think the majority of people will tune in for the first half hour to see what Kenny is like tomorrow night and then switch over to Claire.
"I think they might tune in again on the second week, but in the long term? I think Pat is looking at an audience of between 20,000 and 30,000 viewers. He needs to be prepared for that.
"But the reality is it will not be his fault. No matter how good a presenter he is, no matter how good his guests are, he will struggle to get an audience on UTV.
"I think Claire Byrne will kill him in the long run, but that says nothing about Pat as a presenter. Unfortunately the station he is working for, and the performance of it to date, is against him."
Claire Byrne is playing it safe however, saying she will not buy into the rivalry between the two shows.
On comparisons with the former Prime Time host, Pat Kenny, she said: "Everybody does what they do and does their best, and that's what we'll be doing. I wish UTV Ireland well," she says.
She even cited Kenny as one of her role models, describing him as one of the outstanding current affairs broadcasters in this country. "For the brief period that I worked with him on Prime Time I learnt a lot from him and he was a great colleague, somebody who was very generous with his time."
A separate well-placed source with close links to both stations said the style of Kenny's show may be a problem. "UTV's track record is poor and a 'This is Your Life' excursion with pre-recorded clips is a tough format - unless he gets grade-A top-rank celebrities and even then, if they are already well-known, we know their every detail. Byrne has the advantage of themes, controversy and standing on the deck of the mothership."