Television: RTÉ at its gruesome worst

  • 1 November 2006
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From The Late Late Show to The Panel, RTÉ's bank holiday viewing was a major disappointment

Sean O'Rourke is perhaps the best radio presenter around. Direct, no waffle, no self-preening, to-the-point, brisk. His style works wonderfully on the News At One on Radio 1. But on The Week in Politics?

I hadn't viewed the programme until I was assigned to this reviewer slot and was surprised how he doesn't work on television. The relentlessness of his style, the impatience, the cutting-across interviewees before they have time to answer. Perhaps understandable in the pressurised context of an early-afternoon flagship radio news programme but on late Sunday night, television? I don't think so.

There was far too much impatience and briskness. True, Tommy Brougham of Labour talked absolute rubbish about the party's poll ratings and it was understandable that he be closed off. But all three interviewees (the others were Avril Doyle and Sean Fleming of Fianna Fáil – I hadn't seen him before and he seems impressive) were cut off several times before they could formulate answers, as though there were the kind of time pressures that apply on the News at One and Morning Ireland. Shouldn't a late-Sunday-night programme, even on politics, be a little more relaxed?

Aside from that, the topics were as dull as they get. The opinion poll in that day's Sunday Business Post, with Bertie continuing to fly high; the salmon drift-netting dispute (subsumed by Sean O'Rourke into a local constituency issue, with the chance that a Dáil seat might be endangered – Sean Fleming impressively drew attention to the reality that the conservation of the environment was a national issue, not just a local one); Michael McDowell's privacy bill (again Sean Fleming made a telling point: what is so bad about the government living up to its election commitments?); and a TG4 opinion poll on the Galway West constituency, which, as far as I could see, said nothing at all of any consequence.

All that frenzy, impatience and rush for nothing at all.

On The Panel the next night, there was something drastically wrong with the sound quality on the programme, which made it difficult to understand what the panelists were saying – deliberate?

The programme is an exact copy of similar programmes on British TV – the RTÉ presenter, Dara Ó Briain, even presented one of these, Have I Got News for You. When these satirical reviews of the week's news started – like all good clichés – they were clever and innovative. But now, they are simply dreary. Participants straining to be funny, invariably failing, often going over the top, as they did on this programme with coarse references to the appalling killing of a Somali man by two Dublin sisters, and even coarser references to underage sex.

I looked up The Panel's website and it said the following about the presenter: "We're for Dara houses, Dara doors and even Dara days. But most of all, we're for making Dara as happy as he makes us." The programme was as bad.

On The Late Late Show the opening item was grim. An apparently normal, goodlooking woman had been plucked from the audience the previous week and subjected to a 'make-over' by someone called Lisa. She was back on last Friday's programme looking worse and disoriented. It is hard to imagine why anybody would volunteer for such, but harder to imagine what the national public-service broadcaster thought it was doing. The exploitation of people for what they think is entertainment is execrable, the promotion of the style-fetish is appalling. They followed that through with an item on obesity. A serious issue now but, again, ordinary people with weight problems were cruelly exploited as specimens. I gave up on the show at that stage.