Thursday 21 March 2019

Time to get ready for shiny-floor TV wars

Sitting in judgment: Louis Walsh, Michelle Visage, Jason Byrne and Denise Van Outen
Sitting in judgment: Louis Walsh, Michelle Visage, Jason Byrne and Denise Van Outen
Sean O'Kelly and (right) Liam Daly. Photo: Damien Eagers
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

Iiinnnn the blue corner, we have Simon Cowell's sharp and snappy 'Got Talent' franchise, along with veteran Reality TV star staple Louis Walsh.

Aaaannnnndddd in the red corner, we have the Beeb's spangly ballroom spectacular, and Marty 'Snake Hips' Morrissey.

Tonight, after weeks of those truly terrible Baby Driver inspired ads, Ireland's Got Talent will burst on to our screens, full of sob stories and staccato dance routines.

This week, I was sent a preview of the show, and, let me tell you, Dancing with the Stars Ireland had better pull its socks up.

Yes, it has Bernard O'Shea running about in capes, and acting like a gom - if that amuses you. But it's also two hours long. That is far, far too long.

RTÉ, I implore you, there is not a person on the island of Ireland who wants to watch Dancing with the Stars for two hours.

It's the TV equivalent of War and Peace, or Atlas Shrugged, or The NeverEnding Story III: Escape from Fantasia. But this will run every single Sunday night for THREE MONTHS.

I can leave my apartment when the show starts, do the weekly shop, come home, make dinner, have a shower, clean the dishes, have an existential crisis about the meaning of life, come out the other end, and when I pick up the remote Nicky Byrne will still be grinning vacantly at me.

Comparatively, Ireland's Got Talent's running time of 90 minutes seems to fly along.

The judges' 'banter' also isn't scripted - according to IGT producers. And that's a massive plus given how truly dreadful the scripts on DWTS are. The jokes are lame, the links laboured and it's choc-a-bloc with awful puns and juvenile plays on words. And, while I'm sure Nicky and Amanda are both very nice people, neither of them has a discernible sense of humour.

So while they can deliver the jokes on cue, they rarely land. In fact, when I was out covering Dancing with the Stars a fortnight ago, the footage from the rehearsals was accidentally beamed into the green room. Nicky was bartering with the audience.

"When I say the word 'audience' that's your queue to laugh," he told them. "Remember if you do your job, then we can do ours."

I know most entertainment shows have a warm-up routine, but I've never heard a presenter trying to coerce an audience into a verbally binding contract before a show airs.

The show started, and, sure enough, when Nicky delivered the punchline there was a lacklustre groaning guffaw.

In comparison, everyone on the judging panel of IGT are skilled performers, with an understanding of comic timing.

This is helped by slick editing. All of which means there are no excruciating awkward punchlines. And, let's face it, the IGT judges also have more dynamic personalities than the DWTS judges - Michelle Visage, Denise Van Outen, Jason Byrne, and then, of course, there is Louis. Where IGT falls down is its propensity for overblown sentimentality, and its predictability. Statistically, the acts that make it to the finals are dance troupes, singers, or dogs. Got Talent just loves a good dog act.

But even more than a dancing dog, it loves a sob story. Dead relatives, disruptive teens who've learnt the error of their ways, grannies who have spent their lives working down a mine, but also happen to have a set of Whitney Houston pipes. There are lots of 'giving people second chances' on Got Talent. It's not as bad as the X Factor, but it's still up there in terms of schlockiness.

And that can get a pretty tiresome in a very short space of time. Either way, what seems even more entertaining than either show is the ongoing fracas between the show's two producers.

DWTS producer Larry Bass says he put Louis Walsh on TV and looks forward to watching him die on TV. He also claims there isn't a large enough talent pool in Ireland to sustain the series. I guess it took him five series of producing The Voice to figure that out.

And I'm enjoying Louis Walsh highlighting the lack of celebrities on DWTS.

Get your popcorn and stay tuned - things will get uglier off screen than on.

Launch shambles reflects access to services for disabled

Sean O'Kelly and (right) Liam Daly. Photo: Damien Eagers

It's amazing how your own ignorance can knock you sideways.

This week, I headed along to Connolly Station to attend the launch of the DART's accessibility pilot programme.

Naïvely, I had thought this would be a largely feel-good story. Services improving for Ireland's disability community, free Danish pastries and a jaunt out to Howth - what's not to like?

Things didn't run to plan. Two of the wheelchair users, Sean O'Kelly and Liam Daly, were left stranded on trains after ramps weren't brought to the platform on time.

In front of Platform 4, a number of protesters picketed the launch. And Minister for Transport Shane Ross had cancelled. In short, it was a shambles.

In a way, however, it perfectly reflected the lack of consideration given to this large community.

Until Monday, I had no idea that until now, people living with a disability had to phone 24 hours in advance to use the DART. Okay, so it's just been reduced down to four hours but big wow.

What if you suddenly decide that after the misery of Dry January you'd quite like to go to Milanos for a vat of wine and some dough balls? Or if your office crush unexpectedly asks you out? Or what if you just want to call round to your parents' house to watch A Place in the Sun?

There's no room for spontaneity. And there are other issues with the pilot system. For example, customer service officers will operate out of 13 of the 31 stations in Dublin and Wicklow. What happens if multiple commuters with disabilities require assistance at the same time, in different stations? It becomes a right royal mess.

As the train trundled back into the station, Sean O'Kelly told me he didn't "want future generations to live in the Ireland I am living in now".

It's extremely sobering to hear someone as young as 25 say something like that.

It makes you realise how much we are letting this community - and ourselves - down. And just how little it would take to rectify things.


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