Saturday 17 August 2019

Viewer rage: Should Ray D'Arcy stick to radio?

After his 'car-crash' Pamela ­Anderson interview, RTÉ's returned star has been given a critical pasting. Can his Saturday chat show recover after a troubled start?

Irreverent mix: Last week's Ray D'Arcy Show received more than 25 complaints.
Irreverent mix: Last week's Ray D'Arcy Show received more than 25 complaints.

Deirdre Reynolds

More than 20 years after becoming a household name alongside Zig and Zag, Ray D'Arcy found himself back in the lions' den this week.

The Ray D'Arcy Show host came under fire after an exclusive TV interview with Pamela Anderson was blasted as "sexist" online.

Speaking to Review, an RTÉ spokesperson confirmed that, as of Wednesday evening, 26 people had complained about the presenter's sit-down chat with the former Baywatch star at the weekend.

"At this point in time there have been 19 formal complaints about the Pamela Anderson interview on The Ray D'Arcy Show on Saturday night," they said. "RTÉ also received seven calls and emails offering negative feedback on the segment."

During the 18-minute interview, D'Arcy controversially quizzed Anderson about her breast size, her sex tape with ex-husband Tommy Lee and what her teen sons make of her sex symbol status.

Displaying a photo of the Canadian receiving a knighthood earlier this year, the former Today FM broadcaster also appeared to make a lewd gag -"There you are, on your knees in front of the Prince of Montenegro" - before ending on a double entendre - "It was great, I was going to say, having you. I should really rephrase that."

Although not among those who took to social media to slate the "car crash of an interview", to quote one Twitter user, TV editor Fiona Flynn said she can understand why some viewers were upset by the segment: "Ray D'Arcy is undoubtedly a very talented radio broadcaster but at the moment, something unfortunately isn't translating on TV.

"Maybe it's simply nerves but his tone has come across as almost condescending at times, particularly in that Pamela Anderson interview. Getting such a star was a big coup for the show, yet it got publicity for all the wrong reasons."

While the national broadcaster has declined to go into detail about the precise nature of the complaints it received over the spot, taking to Twitter at the weekend, other TV licence-fee payers weren't as shy.

Slamming the "nasty" line of questioning, which ironically followed an interview with feminist author Róisín Ingle, one viewer - for example - wondered: "When did Ray D'Arcy become a rude and misogynist old man?" Praising the former Playboy model's "patience", meanwhile, another added: "I'm surprised Pamela Anderson didn't walk off the Ray Darcy show".

Even fellow RTÉ star Maïa Dunphy weighed in: "The relentless innuendo of that interview was unnecessary and disrespectful. Really surprised at #RayDarcyShow."

On Monday, as fur continued to fly over his interview with the animal rights activist, the 51-year-old - who famously jumped ship from Marconi House to Montrose last year - was notably absent from his RTÉ Radio 1 show. Ahead of the ninth instalment of his eponymous chat show then, all eyes are sure to be on Brendan O'Connor's embattled replacement at 10.05pm tonight.

"Live TV, in whatever guise you do it, is precarious," told Lynda McQuaid, director of content at rival channel TV3, which currently airs The X Factor on Saturday nights. "It's not an easy genre to get on top of. You're relying on all the stars aligning at exactly the right time.

"The Late Late Show has always been live and worked. The feeling is 'We do one chat show really well on Friday night, therefore let's just repeat that on a Saturday night'. I'm not too sure it's as easy as that."

Returning to the small screen back in September, RTÉ's prodigal son acknowledged the station wasn't exactly "reinventing the wheel" with the format.

"We all know how a chat show works," the Kildare native - who was unavailable for comment this week - said. "I develop a comfortable space for people, I invite them in and they tell me stories. We hope people will laugh, cry and sometimes shout at the TV."

Battling against such Saturday night reality TV juggernauts as BBC's Strictly Come Dancing and The X Factor though, is there really still room for one old-fashioned chat show on Irish airwaves - let alone two?

"Strictly's success over the past decade or so has been to reinvent the concept of families sitting down all together to watch Saturday night light entertainment telly," explained Ray Walsh, editor of TVnow magazine. "It's glossy, silly and ultimately harmless as the celebs taking part really have nothing to lose apart from a touch of dignity."

"10.8 million people in the UK watch Strictly," continued Lynda McQuaid, who previously devised the format for hit RTÉ series You're a Star. "It's a really, really noisy market and whatever you do in an Irish context has got to compete with UK channels.

"Making a bespoke Irish entertainment show is an expensive proposition. However, if you were to come up with the format for Saturday night, I definitely think it could punch through. Ultimately, that's my ambition [at TV3]."

Back at Donnybrook, despite losing almost a quarter of its audience since bursting onto the box with 468,500 viewers, The Ray D'Arcy Show still enjoys around a 30pc market share -approximately the same as O'Connor's Saturday Night Show. And while a recent appearance by a Jack Nicholson lookalike may have tanked, the veteran broadcaster was also praised for his sensitivity during a pre-recorded interview with abuse survivor Niamh Ní Dhomhnaill.

With 25 more weeks to go, there's plenty of the time for the show to deliver on its promise of "an irreverent mix of chat, comedy and music", according to Fiona Flynn of "There's a considerable amount of people in Ireland who won't switch over from RTÉ no matter what, so Ray will get those viewers regardless. If he wants to bring in more of an audience and leave his own mark on Saturday nights though, adjustments need to be made.

"Overall, the show is trying to be too many things at once, with US talk show tricks like push-up competitions one minute and 'deep and meaningful' interviews the next," she added. "It should ditch the tearjerker interviews and condescending tone and stick with shorter, fun interviews - this is Saturday night after all."

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