Ireland’s most iconic chat show has made for grim viewing during the pandemic
I THINK it was Kathleen Watkins on the famous couch that did it. The sight of the legendary Gay Byrne’s widow, in the vacuum that is now The Late Late Show, was too incongruous to watch.
The realisation landed: The Late Late is not working in the time of Covid – and it should be taken out of its misery. It would be kinder to pull the plug rather than let it drag on like this all the way to May 2021.
I say this as a long-time viewer of the show, who has a patriotic affection for it as a national institution.
I don’t buy into the reflexive sneering and jeering. I’m proud we have the longest-running chat show in the world. It’s part of us.
But now I just get a feeling of what the Brazilians call ‘saudade’: a longing for something that is lost. Restrictions of the virus has sucked out its soul. As a fan, I can’t look anymore at what the pandemic has reduced it to. It’s a travesty.
They should mothball it for this season – or else use the unprecedented global crisis to do something radical, for as long as we’re stuck with Covid rules.
I can see why RTÉ bosses might think it is stoic to carry on regardless, but it risks tainting its legacy, and losing viewers for good. If it’s not losing them already.
It’s not anyone’s fault. Host Ryan Tubridy is not to blame, the interviewees are the same calibre as ever – whatever your rating on that is. The show is simply a casualty of an act of God.
Here’s the problem: The Late Late Show’s appeal is the jack-in-the-box element. The live television format, with a stream of guests in front of a studio audience means anything can – and does – happen. That’s the craic of it.
Russell Crowe getting up to sing and scolding the audience: "If you’re going to clap, clap in time"; Pat Shortt going into the crowd and mortifying people on national television; Boyzone’s Shane Lynch telling Ryan: "You can shove it up your hole”. Sinead O’Connor in a scarlet abaya.
Tubridy thrives with an audience; being a people person is his greatest skill as a broadcaster. Instead, we’re highly aware of the rows of empty seats in front of him. Lately, a few of the Late Late team in the studio have taken to bualadh bos-ing the hands off themselves in an effort at a round of applause for guests. To the viewer at home, it’s about as effective as Bart Simpson’s recreation of the sound of one hand clapping.
In the absence of a studio audience, the producers should use social media to harness the television audience – get them involved in real time, which would give a sense of community and participation we are thirsting for now.
The Late Late was justifiable at the start of the pandemic, when there was an element of recorded history to it. In the darkest days of lockdown, montages of a shuttered Ireland set to the theme of To Whom It Concerns gave a poignant sense of unity and hope. It is worth noting Ryan risked his own health to keep going and paid the personal price for that sacrifice.
But any novelty of Covid has well worn off at this stage.
We are in a state of dysphoria and want escapism: not a constant reminder of The Thing that dictates all our lives.
Incidentally, that Late Late Show episode featuring Kevin Bacon on Zoom, Dara Ó Briain phoning it in, and poor Amy Huberman interviewed for what felt like HOURS was the worst one I’ve ever seen – and I include the great RTÉ canteen swipe of the blizzard of 2010 in that.
Even Ryan was frustrated with the sufferance of it. "I’m feeling a great show coming on in a year’s time" he told Bacon, a trad music fan he was keen to pair up with Christy Moore when the time comes.
Nobody wants to sit at home to look at a screen of a fella talking to another fella through a screen. None of us want to do another Zoom call ever again, if we can avoid it, let alone volunteer to watch someone else doing it half the night.
Interviews seem to go on forever because nobody has anything to say. Everyone has been living the most boring, reduced life possible for the past seven months because we can’t do anything. Even I find myself waiting a few months to catch up with some of my closest friends because there is nothing new to report.
Should the Late Late Show choose to swim, rather than sink, it would do well to take its lead from Claire Byrne Live. The Monday night show is challenging, current, and providing a national conversation out of the comfort zone.
You never feel the absence of the live studio audience as the viewer is brought in through polls and coverage of dynamic issues that spark debate. Plus, it’s great fun to see Kate O’Connell dolled up like a gorgeous Nurse Ratched while giving Claire a flu shot, or Leo letting loose.
In fact, it’s the nearest thing to the golden age Gaybo-era Late Late Show.