We need to end our celebrity obsession before it’s too Late Late

Ireland's most sensitive man in Ireland's toughest job.

I have a confession to make.

I like Ryan Turbidy. I like him a lot.

He is a skilled broadcaster – sensitive, sympathetic, yet utterly unsuited to the Late Late Show.

The world’s longest-running talk show is in danger of running out of steam.

The Late Late is part of the Irish living room – which, as we all know, can be a loud, rowdy, contrary place.

This doesn’t happen on the Late Late Show. Not any more.

Ryan is too nice. Even when asking a hard question, his face bears an expression that says “this hurts me more than it hurts you”.

It’s an expression Gay Byrne never wore.

Part of the problem is, of course, the guests.

It’s hard to ask hard questions of people who have never done or said or stood for anything of substance.

Last night we had a girl from Galway who got a bit of stick on Twitter, some people dancing for Tescos, and three inane empty-headed hacks speculating about what the murderers of women may or may not have been thinking or doing at some point.

Niall Quinn was his usual sympathetic self, but for a man described as “Mother Teresa”, there are no hard questions to ask.

The interview with comedian Anne Gildea – currently being treated for breast cancer – was gripping television, but Turbidy interrupted uncomfortable silences at critical times.

Just as Gildea had composed herself to answer, Turbidy would interject to lighten the situation. That is not what was needed.

As a standup, Anne Gildea is in probably the toughest profession in showbusiness – she is more than capable of dealing with Tubs, his audience, and indeed cancer, and the best of luck to her in her recovery.

But ultimately the nub of the Late Late Show’s problem is our obsession with celebrities from A-list to Z-list.

The producers obviously have some reason for trotting out these nobodies – that reason is because we watch the likes of “Desperate Scousewives”, and some of us even take them seriously.

That’s not what I learned about making television. When I studied communications, the first question we were taught to ask when producing TV is “what story are we trying to tell?” Then you decide how to go about doing it, and indeed who should do it.

The reality TV celebrity trap is that their only story is themselves, and in 101 cases out of 100 it’s not that interesting.

What pains me – and I’ve made this known to the Late Late producers on Twitter – is that there are so many brilliant, fascinating, uplifting and tragic stories out there among the plain people of Ireland.

There are musicians and magicians and comedians struggling for a break that could do with the exposure far more than some C-lister whose ambition- despite the Twitter abuse- is to go on Big Brother.

There are businesses and volunteers and carers who go to outstanding lengths for their communities. We see them, fleetingly, on the Late Late, before the next washed-up, wrinkled has-been is trotted out.

The producers might do well to remember that what is often their biggest audience of the year is for the Toy Show, when there is nary a celebrity in sight- instead, the show is given over to children, in all their original, chaotic, comedic glory.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Ryan is the right man to do this job.

But I’d rather he turn his sympathetic ear to the stories of ordinary people than whatever talentless gobshite happens to be hawked around Montrose by some PR person during the week.

4 responses to “We need to end our celebrity obsession before it’s too Late Late

  1. Hi Philip – Saw your link to this article so hope you don’t mind me leaving my 2 cents worth. Naturally I wouldn’t agree with all you say above but I think you make some very interesting and thought provoking points. You’re right in that Ryan is a nice guy and a very likable presenter but I also think that he is much more than that, he is versatile, empathetic and well capable of asking hard questions when the occasion requires it and I believe he has little to prove in that dept. at this stage.

    The LLS is a peculiar beast in that it doesn’t fit the model of the conventional chat show; it’s 2 hours of live TV for a start, over twice the length of its UK or US counterparts and it isn’t exclusively entertainment based. The Irish audience rightly expect more challenging and difficult items from time to time like the interview with Anne Gildea we featured last night. The audience “obsession” with celebrity has been reflected by the LLS since the earliest days of the show, starting really in the mid to late 1960s just as Television itself took hold. You can argue the rights and wrongs of having various “celebs” on (nobody argues about this more than we do believe me!) but they add light and shade in the course of a long show and some do have genuinely interesting stories to tell as Layla Flaherty demonstrated yesterday. They definitely have their place side by side with up and coming local acts, comedians and the more well established international artists. It’s often overlooked but in TV terms we are by far the biggest supporter of new Irish music and performing talent in the country and just like in Gay’s time we still debate the big issues of the day and bring the audience provocative, tragic and uplifting stories from “plain” people too but a successful LLS tends to be a mix of all of these things and not simply a mono-thematic affair. We may not please everybody for two hours every week but it’s rare that there would be nothing of interest to the vast majority of viewers during any given show. It’s a tough and unforgiving marketplace on a Friday night and despite the somewhat “mixed reviews” we get on Twitter the truth is the show is more popular now than at any other time since Gay presented it notwithstanding the enormous proliferation of choice that has become available in the meantime. It’s great to see that the twitter audience do care about the show enough to bother commenting in such numbers every Friday and that is why I will always listen and learn from the more astute observations… the outright abuse I just have to take on the chin in good humour!

    Regards,

    Michael Kealy
    Executive Producer
    The Late Late Show

  2. Hi Michael,

    Thank you very much for taking the time to engage with the discussion – it is a mark of both your bravery and your professionalism that you choose to do so.

    The reason I – and many others – watch is precisely because it is such a unique show, and we value it so much.

    Ryan does deserve great credit for even attempting to tackle some of the more hard-hitting stuff (something Graham Norton would never do) but to be honest I don’t think it’s his strong suit, such is his innate decency.

    This fact struck me one morning recently when I heard him on the radio – he sounded so much more relaxed and at home.

    One thing he deserves great credit for is his own commitment to being so positive and presenting the best possible image of the country, even if I obviously feel that even more time on your show could be devoted to it.

    I suppose my bottom line is that, every week, I ask myself the question: “is this the best show that could possibly have been made at this time?”.

    Lately, the answer – for me at least – has been “probably not”.

    Admittedly I’m probably not part of the Layla demographic, but there are other things that stick in the craw – Big Country, that pop band (who in fairness were on the LLS for longer than they were famous), the Brendan Grace thing, not to mention that spoofer who said we all had angels and the rest.

    The section on crime last night was downright dangerous in its own way – serious crime rates are actually falling in Ireland, yet we got the impression that women are being murdered left, right and centre.

    The celebrity thing is a double-edged sword – you quite rightly point out that it has been a staple of the show since the 60s, but the proliferation of TV channels has meant that the bar has been lowered a great deal since then.

    It’s no secret that you don’t actually have to be good at anything to get on certain TV shows, with the result that many of those that wind up there are completely lacking in substance. I’m sure Layla is a great girl but I can’t for the life of me see what she brings to the table.

    That said, I don’t for a minute suggest that you have a responsibility to entertain me for two hours of live telly every Friday (I can always amuse myself on Twitter if needs be) – as you might have noticed, I’ll happily sit through items that ostensibly aren’t of interest to me. The ability of the LLS to surprise is not to be underestimated.

    But it has to be said that it happens less and less – the Twink/Daniel O’Donnell/Linda Martin/Louis Walsh/Michael O’Leary axis has been done to death (you can even throw the bould Tommy Tiernan in there at this stage), and yet they all seem to crop up several times a year. It’s hard not to suspect that certain PR people or firms have a habit of getting their clients a seat on the show.

    The truth is that ours is a country brimming with talent, and when it does get a chance, the Late Late Show has provided it with a springboard to success.

    I would love to see a Late Late Show that – for one night only – goes out and finds some of the most promising unsigned, unrepresented talent in the country. It could be comedians or musicians or poets, artists or small business people.

    In closing the door to the record companies and the big studios and PR firms, you could, in the spirit of “meitheal”, open it up the rest of the country.

    Instead of waiting on reality and talent shows to create the stars of the future, you could take the chance and do it right there on the Late Late – and moreover, I think the audience would indulge you for one night too.

    I’m sure you’re familiar with the old maxim that “a camel is a horse designed by committee”, and I hope that this discussion has reaffirmed the courage of your convictions.

    Because in truth, the Late Late Show is probably all that we have left that is too big to fail, and all of us – even the most critical of us on Twitter- do so because, perversely, we want you to succeed. The show is THAT important.

    Thanks again for taking the time to reply.

  3. Hi Philip – Rest assured that all points above will be taken on board, particularly your point about the crime panel. I know I’m never going to persuade people to like individual items or guests that they just don’t like but we do put the likes of Brendan Grace or Daniel O’D on precisely because they are hugely popular. It may not be my taste or yours but they are watched in vast numbers and we have a brief which requires us to cater for all tastes of a hugely diverse audience. Incidentally both Brendan and Daniel rated amongst the most popular items of the last six months.

    There is a perception that we trot out the same bunch of tired local celebs time and time again but I actually think this doesn’t really bear up to analysis. We rarely have a guest on more than once a season… Michael O’Leary has appeared only once on the LLS in the last 5 years, Brendan Grace and Twink have appeared twice in 4 years and Tommy has appeared once since Ryan took over, granted Daniel has appeared 3 times in 3 years. In Gay’s time it was much more common for some guests like Maureen Potter, Ulick O’Connor or Rosaleen Linehan to be on 7 or 8 times in one season… something we would be vilified for doing now. The issue appears to be due to the fact that we have a huge amount of home produced television programmes including mid-week and daytime chat shows compared to the 1970s or 1980s so there are many more outlets for the small pool of well known faces.

    Regarding the music we do regularly feature new and unsigned acts, I know Big Country may not be everybody’s idea of a top booking but they did earn 3 grammy nominations and sell millions of records in their day something I hope Meath woman Wallis Bird will go on to do. I like your idea of doing something with up and coming/unrepresented talent in the country, we did do a version of that in the run-up to St. Patrick’s day last year where we brought 10 unknown business people in to pitch their ideas to the public and maybe now is the time to revisit.

    Thanks again for the constructive critique.

    Michael

  4. Thanks again Michael for taking the time to reply.

    Yours is very much like the England manager’s job in that it’s impossible to please everyone, yet everyone is entitled to an opinion – and most of them think they could do it better than you.

    Thanks for clarifying the point the point about certain guests appearing more regularly too (although I wouldn’t mind seeing Wallis Bird on again some time soon!) – that perception that it’s the same guests all the time is very damaging, and I’m happy to see you set the record straight.

    Best of luck with the show, I’ll be watching again next week – unless you drag Michael O’Leary on again…. =)

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