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Charlie Bird's long good-bye

The most telling scene during the concluding part of Charlie Bird's misadventures in America occurred when RTE's soon-to-be-former Washington correspondent experienced a personal ET moment.

Like Steven Spielberg's crinkly little alien, Charlie was stranded in a place he didn't understand, out of touch and out of sorts, and decided to phone home.

Not his friends or family, which might have been understandable, but his bosses in RTE.

Charlie wanted to know if there was anything they thought he should be covering.

It was an extraordinary sight: possibly the first recorded instance of a professional journalist stationed in the busiest, most intriguing political capital in the western world asking a news editor sitting at a desk more than 4,500 miles away what he should do next.

Clearly, no answer was forthcoming -- although I'd love to have been a fly on the wall in Montrose after Bird hung up the phone -- and Charlie was left sitting there, staring distractedly into space and chewing his lip.

Last week's episode of Charlie Bird's American Year was a hoot: compelling viewing for all the wrong reasons.

Yet in one of those bizarre ironies only RTE seems capable of conjuring up, it attracted more than half-a-million viewers, which perversely makes it a hit -- even if an embarrassed RTE has apparently practically disowned the thing.

Last night's instalment, while not so heavy on the angst and self-pity that Bird ladled on with a shovel last week, was still pathetic and cringeworthy.

Beyond President Obama's inauguration, Bird seems to have spent a whole year in Washington without having filed a single report of substance or originality. It must be some kind of record.


Reflecting that it was becoming increasingly difficult for him to get items onto the RTE News, Charlie reasoned: "There was really only one big story throughout 2009 and that was the economy." They have an economy in America, too, Charlie.

It appeared that he'd rather be anywhere else but Washington DC, so he headed off on another jaunt with Harvey, his laconic cameraman/film editor, while Perry Como's Magic Moments played on the soundtrack.

They visited Florida's tent cities, filled with people whose homes have been repossessed, hung out in Cape Cod and then moved on to Detroit, where Charlie hooked up with Limerick boxer Andy Lee.

The sound of another Irish accent seemed to cheer him up.

Finally arriving back in Washington, Charlie discovered nothing was happening -- again -- and the Obamas were on vacation.

"With Obama away for August, I decided to head south -- for a break," declared Charlie. He tried on some cowboy hats and tried out some line dancing in Texas, headed down Mexico way to meet the notorious Joe Arpaio, the toughest sheriff in America who'd throw a mouse into jail for trying to cross the border.


Then -- in another demonstration of his curious obsession with gun-toting rednecks -- hung out with vigilantes called the Minute Men, who patrol the border looking for illegals.

It was inconsequential and time-killing -- not surprising. since Charlie had spent the year ticking the days off on a calendar in the tiny RTE office he shared with Harvey and producer Lesley.

Charlie's year ended with him dropping a Christmas bombshell in their laps: "I won't be here next Christmas."

"Aw, Chaar-leee!" said the long-suffering Lesley. Americans do sincerity brilliantly.

Charlie Bird's American Year might well be a broadcasting landmark: the longest televised job resignation in history.