Sunday 21 July 2019

The pursuit of TV happiness


Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates, hosts of TV3's The Tonight Show. Photo: Arthur Carron
Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates, hosts of TV3's The Tonight Show. Photo: Arthur Carron
Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

You've got to admire Matt Cooper and Ivan Yates, all the same. Not just for what they're doing on The Tonight Show, but for the fact that they're doing it at all.

These men will usually have been presenting radio shows lasting a few hours during the afternoon, and then they're off to TV3 for another shift that means they're not finished until the dead of night.

And by the way, you'll note that I called it TV3 there, not Virgin One, because I see an analogy with the stadium that is now officially called the Aviva, but is still known to some as Lansdowne Road. Since our world is being consumed by members of the corporate class, who can change the name of the grandest old institution to whatever they like, just because they have all the money, perhaps this is the one form of resistance that is open to the multitudes - they can't make you stop calling it Lansdowne Road, they can't make you stop calling it TV3.

Well, they probably can, but we'll carry on anyway.

So there they are on Virgin One, Matt and Ivan, working hard for the money. And they are also giving us one of the few situations in which choice, in TV terms, is good.

Choice, as we know, is almost always bad in the TV business, as you can easily confirm any night of the week by flicking through the 800 channels from which you can now choose anything you want to see, only to invariably find that there is, in fact, nothing you want to see, or would ever, in any conceivable circumstances, want to see.

But in this exceptional case of a late-night current affairs show in Ireland, Virgin One can offer a real choice, because RTE television doesn't do late-night "live" current affairs.

Or the early morning kind of show either, which lets Virgin One in at the other end too, with its Ireland AM at 7am.

Claire Byrne Live makes a brave run at it from 10.30pm, but it's only one night a week, and you really need to be touching midnight to get that true late-night feel.

You might think that RTE would have seen this nocturnal thing working way back on TV3, and done its own version, but there are deeper cultural issues at work here than mere TV "competition". There is a fine tradition to be upheld, of RTE not doing these late nights or early mornings. And I, for one, would not have it any other way.

You've gotta have a dream, as they say, not just in South Pacific but in Irish broadcasting.

Yes, when we dream, we do not dream about the terribly unsocial hours that Matt and Ivan must endure, of another hard night trying to get a bit of action out of the denizens of Leinster House, before hitting the M50 again and home for a few hours' sleep until it all kicks off for them again on Today FM or Newstalk.

Indeed you'd get a bit weary just writing that down, when instead you could be dreaming of a far, far better life in RTE. I think of that line of Rhett Butler's in Gone With The Wind, "an era of chivalry and gracious living". And sometimes I think the only thing that keeps most of us going is the thought that a place such as RTE exists, unlike any other place in which we might find ourselves, in these hard times.

Deep down, Matt and Ivan must know this too - their days are spent in offices not much more salubrious than the places in which the pirate radio stations used to operate, their nights are spent in rooms in an industrial estate.

They have been known to go on holidays for less than three months.

Probably they savour the challenges of being out there busting their asses in the independent sector and all that, but you can get enough of the old challenges too.

Certainly they may be happy that they have this late-night TV thing to themselves, that they have a clear run at it, that there are almost no circumstances in which RTE will respond with a similar programme because… well because it doesn't do that.

But they will also be asking themselves: can a man ever truly be happy, if he is not in RTE?

And they will know the answer too.

The Tonight Show (Virgin Media One, 11pm)


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