Tuesday 23 October 2018

On Television

Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty







One of the many joys of Off The Ball was its carefully maintained, shambolic swagger – here, it would sometimes appear, was a bunch of lads who just rolled up from whatever gin palace or late-night gambling den they had been frequenting only to realise that they'd forgotten their notes and would just wing it instead.

The reality, of course, is a rather different matter, and as tough as it may be to make something as logistically complex as several hours of live radio look easy, they managed it with aplomb. Indeed, when Off The Ball first began to gain real traction the Irish radio public seemed convinced, wanted to be convinced, that the presenters only spoke when they weren't busy checking messages on their phone.

Of course, such studied looseness is the result of hard work built on a firm foundation of basic knowledge and a lot of research. But while that worked exceptionally well on Newstalk, how would it translate to the more fussy strictures of live RTE television?

On first glance, The Second Captains team, who split from Newstalk, to become a sort of Continuity Off The Ball, was a good TV option that came with an onion bag full of pitfalls – sitting in a radio studio with your mates and cracking wise is a long way from having even the basic TV tricks of knowing your cue and which camera you're looking into. Because unlike space, on live telly everyone can hear you scream.

Eoin McDevitt reminds you of what Richard Boyd Barrett would be like if he had a sense of humour and an interest in football; Ken Murphy is that most endangered of creatures, a quiz expert you don't want to kill; and Ken Early, true to his radio roots, is still like Garrison Keillor for a stoned generation.

Honestly, swap the eccentric residents of Lake Wobegon for the routine madness of Irish sport and there's Early, delivering his lugubrious observations with the same wry affection as the great American humourist. More of him, please.

But Tuesday's debut outing was notable for the quality of the guests – Richie Sadlier is arguably the most compelling and interesting pundit in this country (although no doubt he'd bristle at the word 'pundit'); Oisin McConville will make even someone with an aversion to the GAA listen with fascination; and Derval O'Rourke, quite simply, has always looked smarter than the average bear.

Throw in a genuinely enlightening interview with an uncharacteristically chilled Ronan O'Gara and this was quite simply sports broadcasting of the highest quality – a feat which is beyond, for example, broadcast veterans such as Danny Kelly and Danny Baker, whose vaguely similar format on BT Sports is a messy shambles.

So what's the magic ingredient? How have they, on the basis of one show, admittedly, made something so difficult look so damn easy?

One can only assume the answer is love – their passion and genuine curiosity and the way they wear their obvious encyclopedic knowledge lightly, rather than as an info-stick to beat the viewer with.

To quote another legendary sports broadcaster – back of the net.

Although if they don't get that quality of guest every week, they're going to find that maybe having a show that lasts an hour might be one ad break too many.

Comprised of hand-held recorded evidence after the supposed attack, this was an efficiently constructed, Cloverfield-style effort that had some rather delicious twists, from the creepy scenes of the stranded woman and child picked up by a dodgy looking geezer who just happens to have an electronic tag – their batteries run out quickly and become useless – to the middle class guy who slowly morphs from looking like Outnumbered's Hugh Dennis into The Man from The Road.

And speaking of links – Karen Meagher, who played the doomed Ruth in Threads, reappears in Blackout, proving that you don't want to be in Sheffield when that fine actress is there, because bad things are likely to happen.

And when it works, it is brilliant – a bit like This Is Your Life but with characters from an asylum. James Franco's roast saw Seth Rogan, Jonah Hill and a bunch of Franco's buddies engage in something that was more circle jerk than Franco-bashing.

If you want to see how just how subversive and scabrous these roasts can be, just look up any Gilbert Gottfried clip on YouTube – although good luck finding his legendary 9/11 joke during the roast of Hugh Hefner, which has been almost completely excised.


Irish Independent

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