Tuesday 15 October 2019

UTV Ireland first night review: the bland leading the bland

Chris Donoghue (left), Alison Comyn, Pat Kenny, Sinead O'Donnell and Claire Brock at the launch of UTV Ireland at the channel’s headquarters and HD studios in Dublin’s Docklands, on New Year’s Day. Photo: Arthur Carron
Chris Donoghue (left), Alison Comyn, Pat Kenny, Sinead O'Donnell and Claire Brock at the launch of UTV Ireland at the channel’s headquarters and HD studios in Dublin’s Docklands, on New Year’s Day. Photo: Arthur Carron

Ed Power

WHEN Pat Kenny departed RTE's The Frontline in 2013, little could viewers have guessed the next time we would see him on our screens he would be discussing the sexual undercurrents of blues music with a frizzy-tressed hippy type from Wicklow.

But it was in the guise of laid-back presenter-about-town that Kenny arrived on UTV Ireland and a special launch-night broadcast, Out With The Old – In With The U (yes, you are allowed groan and slap your forehead).  And as he sauntered through the Olympia Theatre with Bray vocalist Hozier, resplendent in Alan Partridge-style pullover and jeans, you wondered if the new channel knew quite what it wanted to do with its star signing.

Pat Kenny
Pat Kenny

It is no criticism of Kenny to point out he is more convincing – and seems far more at ease – as straight-up newsman rather than avuncular impresario: he is assuredly an Irish Jeremy Paxman rather than our version of Jonathan Ross and what is wrong with what?

But here he was, back in his Late Late Show incarnation of light entertainment gadfly  – and it appeared an open question where it was all leading. From Hozier we were whisked to Limerick and the Slattery family, proud parents of quadruplets, and to Belfast for a chat with rugby international Tommy Bowe (with a stop-off in Kerry to meet the grandmother of Love/Hate's Nidge and a teary tete-a-tete with an Irish-American zillionaire). 

In all, it was a strange unveiling for UTV, which had earlier announced its grand entrance as the brave new force in domestic broadcasting via a short video montage, followed by… Emmerdale.  'Soft launches' are terribly fashionable nowadays – nonetheless, 30 minutes of Yorkshiremen comparing sheep felt an underwhelming way for UTV Ireland to trumpet its arrival.

With Kenny set to front a studio-based current affairs show from March, the network clearly remains a work in progress, one that may yet live up to the hype it has tried to generate in recent weeks. On splashdown, though, UTV Ireland was a story of the bland leading the bland. Its rivals may sleep a little more soundly tonight.

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