Sunday 16 December 2018

Just don't mention Al or war at TV3 launch

Out to launch: Michelle Visage, Louis Walsh and Denise Van Outen at TV3 Group Spring Launch 2018. Photo: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX
Out to launch: Michelle Visage, Louis Walsh and Denise Van Outen at TV3 Group Spring Launch 2018. Photo: Paul Sharp/SHARPPIX
Captain BirdsEye
Kirsty Blake Knox

Kirsty Blake Knox

It felt like a case of 'Don't mention the war' at TV3's spring launch.

Hacks and snappers had gathered in Roberta's restaurant, Dublin to hear all about what they could expect on their goggleboxes in the coming months.

The last time TV3 had one of these launches it was MC'd by Al Porter, who was then host of Blind Date.

As TV3 kept telling us that day, Al was one of its most promising rising stars.

But we all know, six months can be a very long time in broadcasting.

Al no longer has his TV show, and TV3 has six episodes of Blind Date worth an estimated €500,000 stored somewhere in Ballymount.

TV3 boss Bill Malone was determined to avoid the subject though, and spent a good part of the afternoon side-stepping the topic.

"I'm going to stick to the spring launch!" he said repeatedly. "Today is all about spring, so I'm just talking about spring!"

And so, we moved the conversation on to Sinead Desmond's departure; the former host of Ireland AM left the station last summer after 11 years. Her departure was reported to have been due to gender pay disparity within TV3.

"We wish Sinead all the best… but I'm here to talk about spring," Bill repeated.

At this stage, we were all growing a little weary of these diversionary tactics.

It was pointed out that gender pay disparity isn't actually a seasonal issue. The wage gap doesn't appear in autumn, and then miraculously disappear in winter, spring and summer. That's not how it works. But we were assured that TV3 is a great place for women to work - just look at all the female on-air talent.

Lots of women, yes. But are they getting the same wedge for the same work as their male counterparts? In 2016, it was reported that Xposé host Peter Riordan was paid double the fees of his female co-hosts. Bill may have been reluctant to veer off message, but others were more forthcoming.

Namely Louis Walsh, aka the high king of celebrity spats and putdowns.

If there were UFC gilded belts handed out for throwing shade, Walsh would have them all.

This is a man who described Boyzone as 'Ronan, Stephen and three Ringo Starrs'.

Presumably that was before he fell out with Ronan Keating. When Cheryl Cole questioned Walsh's professionalism on the X Factor, he replied: "What is she peddling this time? Eyelashes or hairspray? It's definitely not her music."

And then there have been scraps with Gary Barlow, Jedward's mother, Leona Lewis, Liam Payne, and Rita Ora.

In that context, I wonder if Dancing with the Stars producer, Larry Bass, knows what he's getting himself in for. This week, Larry told reporters he had "put Louis on TV and would watch Louis die on telly". I mean, I liked You're A Star but… really? It seemed Bass was smarting over Walsh's observation that Dancing with the Stars was lacking, well, any stars. Louis even suggested RTÉ should have called it "Dancing with the Staff".

"And Louis would know a star?" Bass asked. "When was the last time Louis signed an act that actually had a hit record?"

That seems a bit harsh. Especially when you consider that Dayl Cronin - a member of Louis Walsh's last band Hometown - was one of the biggest 'stars' taking part on RTÉ's dance extravaganza last year.

Louis told reporters at the TV launch that he didn't want to get into a war of words with Larry.

"If you want to do local telly then Larry is fine," he said. "But I think Simon Cowell may have had more to do with putting me on TV in the UK and the States."

After all the speeches had been made, Drag Race judge Michelle Visage, rugby pundit Shane Horgan, and comedian Jason Byrne talked about their respective shows.

"Louis thought I was Ed Byrne at first - can you believe that?" Jason Byrne asked.

Louis nodded. "Yes, I think that's why I thought you were funny."

What's in a frock?

Red Carpet activism is something I usually can't abide.

I never got on board with the #AskHerMore campaign. For me, complaining about the injustices of being quizzed about the €100,000 designer dress you got for free is a bit of an ask.

All jobs have their downsides, but I rate being forced to tell people Dolce & Gabbana dressed you as pretty low on the martyrdom scale.

So I was inclined to be cynical in advance of the Golden Globes red-carpet blackout.

And there was plenty to eye-roll about: such as the perceived virtue signalling, and the slacktivism. Rose McGowan, one of the most vocal women behind the #MeToo movement, was vitriolic on how meaningless the protest was. She said silence was the problem, and Hollywood stars needed to speak up if they wanted to realise change.

Others said the protest implied the best response to sexual harassment is changing your gúna.

And is wearing black so iconoclastic? Personally, I would have loved if everyone arrived in Bjork's 2001 swan dress. Now that would have been something else.

Having said all that, it was hard not to be impressed when all, bar four women, arrived wearing ink-black dresses. Fashion can often be dismissed as fluffy and frivolous - and most of the time it is just that. But whether we like to admit it or not, clothes are signifiers, they not only carry meaning, they are loaded with it.

The shade was also significant. As fashion journalist Alex Fury noted, "black represents all kinds of things - seriousness, servitude, justice". Best of all the blackout didn't knock the fun out of fashion. All the women were enjoying the carpet and their clothes - be it Saoirse's diamante-cuffed sleeve, or Clare Foy's razor-sharp suit.

"The dress code didn't say anything about not looking our best," Catherine Zeta Jones told reporters. I still don't know if I can get on board with Hollywood's propensity for self-congratulation. But the visibility of the blackout and discussion around it was a nice shift from all those 'Sack the Stylist!!' pieces.

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