Is there still life in hit and miss affair that is Late Late Show?

Is there still life in the old chat show, asks Colette Sheridan in her weekly column
Is there still life in hit and miss affair that is Late Late Show?

Ryan Tubridy is stepping down as host of The Late Late Show next month. Picture: Andres Poveda Photography

FRIDAY night in the pub used to be such fun, an excuse to get tanked up, all the better to release the tensions of a busy working week.

It would inevitably end up in some late night club for those of us who wanted the party to go on and on.

Now, for those of us of a certain age (and on the dry in my case), Friday night heralds The Late Late Show, which should ideally be the equivalent of the end-of-week boozer, although it often disappoints.

I know it’s very uncool to out oneself as a Late Late Show viewer. You may be more inclined to watch something on Netflix than Ryan Tubridy. But there is a cohort that, out of habit – and curiosity – sticks with RTÉ1 on Friday nights after the main evening news.

We’re auld ones who grew up watching Gay Byrne putting a condom on a banana, interviewing lesbian nuns, grilling gossip columnist Terry Keane about her affair with former Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, and being avuncular towards Sinead O’Connor. What’s not to like?

Under the stewardship of Gaybo, The Late Late Show had made memorable moments.

Interestingly, back in 1998, Lansdowne Market Research carried out a poll to determine the most popular and the most hated public figures in Ireland. Gaybo tied with Charlie Haughey as the most hated figure in the country. He was also voted the most popular.

And therein lies the reason for his success.

People that we love to hate always do well. Controversy sells. Chat show hosts that know how to stir things, that ask the difficult questions and probe interviewees for revelations never before disclosed are to be treasured.

Who wants blandness in a world that has fierce culture wars and people with strident views?

I’m not suggesting that The Late Late Show should try to emulate the war zone that is Twitter. But there’s nothing like a good row to bolster viewing numbers.

It’s all too easy to slag off Ryan Tubridy who will be leaving The Late Late Show towards the end of May. He can sometimes be accused of blandness and is prone to being matey-matey with some guests instead of being more combative.

But it’s a hard gig. When RTÉ Radio host Brendan O’Connor asked Graham Norton last weekend whether he’d be interested in Tubridy’s job, he ruled it out saying it’s too hard. And he should know.

It calls for an ability to switch from covering fluffy subject matter to more serious or highly sensitive material. Tubridy is generally more at home with the lighter stuff, the showbiz stories. He has a showbiz aura about him, hyping up figures from the entertainment world, often getting a laugh from them.

And he’s great on The Toy Show, able to play it giddy with the kids, drawing them out, which is not an easy task. Children can spot insincerity a mile off. If they’re judge and jury, then Tubridy’s sincerity is genuine.

I often give out about The Late Late Show and its love affair with Daniel O’Donnell, its propensity to feature RTÉ personnel flogging their wares and the stream of sports stars (I don’t like sports.)

But last Friday, it had a great line up; Hilary Clinton (with whom Tubridy was a bit too matey, but sure we’re all democrats in Ireland); Stefanie Preissner being honest about motherhood (she’s a good mother but her autism means she needs support); musicians Tom Dunne and Fiachra Ó Braonain (thoroughly likeable guys); and Padraig Harrington who gifted Tubridy with a golf set. (Not quite up there with the Harley Davidson that U2 gave to Gaybo on the night of his final Late Late Show but Tubridy seemed interested in golf, a grand past-time for networkers).

Also, as I started to doze off towards the end of the show, crime journalist, Nicola Tallant woke me up when she stated: “Gerry Hutch is loved.”

More of that kind of interesting observation on a crime lord who dominated the headlines last week and The Late Late Show would be more compelling.

The problem with chat shows is there are only so many interviewees out there and they tend to go on a rotating carousel of programmes, turning up on the radio, on TV and in podcasts. Now the successor to Tubridy is the stuff of bets.

Who will it be? - Claire Byrne (best girl in the class), Sarah McInerney (capable of heavy and light interviews) or Brendan O’Connor (a proven TV host who asks the questions you want asked).

But what about another Cork man, John Creedon? He’s genial and curious about the world. But he may not have that mercenary streak essential for interviewers.

Perhaps we should be asking whether there is still life in the chat show?

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