Friday 22 November 2019

Smug in his role as God's gift to Irish broadcasting

Expecting Tubridy to probe Keating about his affair was a triumph of hope over experience, writes Eilis O'Hanlon

For those fortunate enough never to have been exposed to their earnest nagging, the "Food Dudes" are a group of imaginary superheroes created by EU-funded busybodies to encourage schoolchildren to eat more healthily so that they too can take on the "Junk Punks" who want to destroy the Life Force that resides in fruit and vegetables.

No, seriously.

There's even a film in which a group of celebrity "Friends of the Food Dudes" explain why it's so important to eat your greens, a tactic which would be lame enough already without the added insult that the list of renowned names includes a certain Ryan Tubridy of the Late Late Show fame. So the big plan for making healthy eating look cool to 21st-century youngsters is to rope in a Bing Crosby lookalike with all the cutting edge appeal of Val Doonican in a rocking chair? Even my son, coming home from school in a stunned state of disbelief after seeing the film, could see the flaw in that brilliant strategy.

It makes the row over Tubridy's interview with Ronan Keating last week all the more ridiculous. Having it away with backing dancer Francine Cornell during his last world tour, while wife Yvonne stayed home and looked after their three young children, may have been the one noteworthy thing that this dripping milksop of an artist has done since he first started churning out music so suffocatingly bland that it makes the Carpenters look hardcore by comparison; but expecting the equally middle of the road Late Late host to probe Keating about the affair really was the triumph of hope over experience, since there's never been the slightest evidence that

Tubridy would recognise an interesting line of questioning even if it jumped across the desk and stuck a custard pie in his David Letterman-loving face.

RTE denies that the vow of silence was prearranged, and also insists the two aren't friends -- albeit that this seems to have come as news to Ronan himself, who told 2FM a very different version of events -- but if that's the line Tubridy wants to follow, I'll take his word for it. I never thought for one second that he didn't ask the question on everyone's lips because they were buddies. I just presumed he hadn't asked because he's a terrible interviewer. Which, arguably, is much more damaging.

That it's unsurprising doesn't make it any less reprehensible, however. Tubridy is one of the highest paid people in Irish television, who basks smugly in his reputation as Everyman, equally at home talking about books, art, politics, world affairs, you name it. In return, is it too much to expect that he might ask a few of the questions which the viewers who pay his wages want asked?

Apparently it is. And apparently that's OK with his bosses. "I hope he doesn't get too hard a time," says Keating. Fat chance. Ryan is sugar-coated; invincible. A big fish in a small, incestuous pond, he'll shrug off the criticism and smarm on his merry way just as he always has.

Class envy is the last refuge of the scoundrel, but it's hard not to be nauseated sometimes as the posh boys from the nice end of town swan from one well-paid job to another -- wallowing in a world where the streets are always paved with gold, doors always open, and opportunities land at their feet as regular as raindrops.

The real wonder is that Ronan, as he remembers it, felt it necessary to ask Ryan backstage to go easy on him. He needn't have bothered. The odds on any guest being thrown a curve ball by Tubridy are as remote as the chances of the audience at home being properly rewarded at the end of another difficult week with something that doesn't look and sound as if it came out of a tin labelled "Generic Chat Show Fare. Sell-by date: last century".

Keating may not have wanted to talk about his extra marital horizontal jogging. Like all celebrities, he only wants publicity he can control; he'd rather drip-feed the fans anodyne dispatches from the Twitterverse while flogging them his latest toxically awful CD than answer awkward questions.

He's also perfectly within his rights to dodge difficult territory. We don't have any right to know what goes on inside his marriage.

Equally, though, Ronan doesn't have the right to expect all PR to be conducted solely on his own terms. That's the eternal balancing act.

In the struggle, Ryan is supposed to be on the side of Us not Them, and certainly not apologising meekly in advance where no apology is needed, with half-hearted, coy little opening gambits such as: "Can I ask you about last year?"

As if he needs to ask his permission first...

It was obvious where Tubridy was coming from when he asked Keating if the press was easier on him in Australia, where he's an X Factor judge, than in Ireland and the UK -- a lifeline the singer instantly grabbed hold of by declaring that the press had been looking for something from him last year "and they got it". (Because of course it was the press which was unzipping his pants and pointing his privates in the direction of Ms Cornell.)

Buried in Tubridy's question was a whole world of sniffiness about the little people out there who read the popular press and dare to care what the rich and powerful are getting up to behind closed doors, behind the spin, rather than being content with whatever scraps their social betters patronisingly deign to drop from the high table as they dine.

Gay Byrne never thought he was superior to the audience in this way, which is why, at his best, he was always a cut above the competition. He connected the viewers to the medium, the content to the form. He knew the Late Late had to be different and definitive, or else it was nothing.

It's far too easy to sentimentalise the Late Late Show of old. To only remember the classic Fridays and forget the times when the conversation didn't sparkle, the guests didn't gel, the host wasn't at his best. But the key point is there were indeed great nights, when for days afterwards every conversation would begin with the words: "Did you see...?"

Those nights just don't happen anymore -- except for the wrong reasons.

Ryan Tubridy's run the Late Late Show into a deep rut of boredom and complacency, just when, post-Pat Kenny, it most needed reinvention. He'll not listen, because he's surrounded by people telling him he's God's gift to Irish broadcasting.

But he's an intelligent guy. Deep down, he must know it isn't good enough.

Sunday Independent

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