Andrew Lynch: It's time to start asking the hard questions, Ryan before it's too Late Late

Andrew Lynch

Ryan Tubridy needs to start asking some hard questions.

Why is his tenure as host of the Late Late Show turning out to be such a disappointment? What is the point of working so hard to land the best gig in Irish television and then doing such a mediocre job? And, most importantly, if he really admires broadcasting giants Gay Byrne and Gerry Ryan so much, how come he seems to have learned so little from them?

Unfortunately, asking hard questions is not something that comes easily to Tubs these days. His gutless encounter with Ronan Keating last Friday was not just a real low point in his career, it was an insult to the 700,000 viewers who continue to stick with the Late Late in the vain hope that the glory days will one day return. Even worse, Tubridy's public response to the controversy has been arrogant and touchy -- a real disappointment for anyone hoping he might use this criticism as a wake-up call.

The problem was simple. Everybody watching the Boyzone singer last week was interested to hear him explain the affair with a backing dancer that almost destroyed his marriage. Nobody was interested in hearing him plug his latest album, a typically schmaltzy collaboration with the pop composer Burt Bacharach.

Not for the first time, however, Tubridy seemed to think that massaging his guest's ego was more important than entertaining his viewers. He completely bottled the question that was begging to be asked, timidly suggesting instead that the press had given Ronan "a difficult year". This allowed Keating to dodge the issue with ease, blaming the newspapers for his woes instead of taking any responsibility for what he did. The fallout has been even more embarrassing than the programme itself. When the blogosphere rightly slammed Tubridy for his feeble performance, he pompously replied, "Trial by Twitter is not the answer to proper journalism." Keating then claimed that the two men were friends and had worked out the terms of the interview beforehand, something that RTE has angrily denied.

Whether or not Ryan and Ronan go for pints together, they certainly have one thing in common. Both are happy to use the press when they have something to promote and both can get extremely upset when journalists write something they don't like. Tubridy is especially sensitive about media coverage of his private life -- he was prickly about coverage of his relationship with Aoibhinn Ni Shuilleabhain and has never spoken publicly about his marriage break-up.

It's one possible explanation for his softly-softly approach to Keating last Friday. In other words, if Ryan doesn't ask celebrities about their privates lives, then the press can't ask him about his.

What he forgets is that he is in showbiz, not Spirit Level. People are naturally curious even if he, as a private college boy, doesn't share their common interests.

They expect him to ask personal questions on a chatshow but he just can't bring himself to do it.

This row will blow over, but Tubridy's long-term problem remains. He has failed to deliver on his promise to give the Late Late "a 21st century twist". The format is just as bland and rigid as it was under Pat Kenny, a steady stream of C-list celebrities allowed to flog their latest products with a minimum of awkward questions.

Podge and Rodge once described Tubridy as "South Dublin on a stick". He comes from a famous Fianna Fail family, with his uncle David Andrews a former Minister for Foreign Affairs and two cousins in the Dail until last month's election. In many ways he has proved himself a better politician than any of them -- using his charm and skills to reach the top of RTE while still in his mid-30s.

As a child he would use a cassette recorder to interview passers-by on Blackrock high street. He made coffee for Gerry Ryan and worked as a reporter for Pat Kenny.

Although Tubridy has often joked that he has the perfect face for radio, his television career has actually been the smoother of the two.

He has hopped between 2FM and Radio One without ever finding the right vehicle and his current morning show feels like a poor substitute for Gerry Ryan.

Pat Kenny once noted acidly that Ryan was "a young man in a terrible hurry". Sadly, now that he's got the job he always wanted, he seems to have relaxed into cruise control mode. He sometimes hints that he might move to the BBC, but that's highly unlikely as long as the Late Late continues its slow decline.

Ryan Tubridy has a real broadcasting talent. He needs to rediscover it soon -- because as long as he continues to duck the hard questions, he is doing himself and his audience no favours.