Wednesday 13 December 2017

Maul in a day's work for TV3's Rottweiler


THE 45-minute Nightly News with Vincent Browne, which runs from Monday to Thursday at 11pm, is a genuine addition to TV3 programming, but then that's not saying an awful lot because almost anything of local origin would improve a schedule that boasts among its highlights Facelift Diaries, America's Pushiest Parents, Trinny and Susannah Undress the Nation and The Woman with Half a Face.

Still, credit where it's due. Up to now, TV3's commitment to home-produced programming has extended no further than obligatory news bulletins, Martin King cavorting in front of a weather chart, Lorraine Keane wittering on about trashy celebs and political editor Ursula Halligan impersonating Jessica Fletcher, so it took some nerve to hand over the late-night news show to a man with the reputation of Rasputin, the manners of a Rottweiller and a face made for radio.

In the event, he's been behaving himself with some civility, even if, on the opening show, while supposedly debating Bertie Ahern's finances, he subjected Fine Gael senator Eugene Regan to a savaging on his own finances -- which recalled for me the night he similarly ambushed me in his radio studio. On such occasions Browne may think he's Jeremy Paxman when, in fact, he's just behaving like a bootboy.

But by now no one expects impartiality from a broadcaster whose preferred approach is combative and whose technique is that of the playground bully -- asking a question and then immediately shouting the interviewee down before he or she gets round to answering it. Such interruptions rarely produce satisfying results and merely alienate the audience.

Still, the show has been lively and if the host can curb his aggressive instincts -- or at least tone them down -- it may well become an unmissable part of our nightly viewing. Certainly the debate on the next morning's papers is a good idea: on Wednesday night political writer Harry McGee and Daily Mirror Irish editor John Kierans were especially alert and interesting commentators.

I've been a friend of John Banville for most of my adult life and know him to be not just a marvellous writer but a terrific conversationalist, too -- witty, warm, mischievous and hugely interested in a variety of people, pastimes and passions.

This hasn't always come across on radio or television, where he can seem stiff and self-conscious (I recall an agonising South Bank Show interview with Melvyn Bragg), and so I wasn't prepared for the relaxed and often playful person he presented on the engrossing Arts Lives: Being John Banville (RTE1).

The subtitle was a bit of a misnomer because there are aspects of the man not revealed in the film: the lover (and performer) of music, the friend, the father, the encourager of others -- indeed, the John Banville who's not the writer and to whom he himself alluded at the outset. That other John Banville is, of course, his own business and only means something to those who know him, and perhaps enough of it was suggested in the course of the hour to be guessed at by viewers.

He was absorbing and often very funny on the art of fiction, on his own books and on those of others, too -- of his famous hatchet job on Ian McEwan's Saturday, he remarked that it had been stupid of him "not to see it as one writer attacking another writer. I regret that." Then he chuckled: "Not much, but I regret it."

No one can have regretted spending an hour watching Charles McCarthy's fine film.

Nor did I regret the hour I passed in the presence of state pathologist Marie Cassidy, the subject of the three-part Death Duties (RTE1). The cases revisited and reconstructed for this opening programme were fascinating -- especially that of the woman burnt in a bonfire by her husband -- and Dr Cassidy proved to be a candid and engaging commentator on her own career and working methods, but the editing was far too tricksy and fussy for its own or the viewer's good.

I guffawed seven times during Katherine Lynch's Working Girls (RTE1), which is seven times more than I managed with any of Montrose's other recent comedy offerings. In this opening show, Ms Lynch impersonated country'n'western hopeful Bernie Walsh, a big lump of a girl living out of a caravan and stuffed into various eye-popping outfits as she endeavoured to get her album Friends in Hiaces into the charts -- an album that had been "moving slower than Steve Staunton's brain cells".

To this end, she tried to crash the Meteor Music Awards ("With a fistful of microphone, any arsehole can get in anywhere nowadays -- just look at Lorraine Keane") but had to be content with shouting at the invited celebs (to Sharon Shannon: "How's your box? Do you keep it clean?"), mimicking others to their faces ("Hi, I'm Deirdre O'Kane. I've had a baby. Isn't that gas?") and offering a tiny rubber phallus to one of the Westlife guys with the exhortation: "Give it to Louis Walsh."

Yes, it was crude stuff but the script was occasionally very sharp and Ms Lynch embodied her character so convincingly and delivered her lines with such gusto that it was impossible not to be won over.

I've no space left for more than a brief word about Victim Impact, an outstanding new RTE1 series produced and directed by Niamh White. The subjects of last week's film were Nora and Bill Lynch, whose 22-year-old son Rob had his throat cut in a Co Clare pub 16 years ago when he intervened in a domestic row.

This week's subjects were Brid and Andy Hynes, whose 17-year-old daughter Siobhan was raped and murdered nine years ago by a local in Lettermore, Co Galway.

In half-hour films of admirable tact, both sets of parents spoke with great dignity of their inconsolable sense of loss and of the bewilderment, grief and anger they continue to endure. The effect was heartrending.

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