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Late Late Show

The Late Late Show is Ireland and the world's longest running chat show. Initially launched as a short summer 'filler' in July 1962 its rapid rise to popularity led it to dominate Irish broadcasting and top the ratings on Radio Telifís Éireann for forty years. The show has been credited by sociologists with reshaping Irish attitudes towards many issues.

When the show was launched, its original presenter was Gay Byrne, a young Irish broadcaster who had been working with Granada television in Britain, where he was one of the first broadcasters to interview the Beatles. (It has been claimed and not denied that Byrne was once asked to manage the band!) Byrne remained the presenter for over thirty years, before retiring in 1999.

Table of contents

List of Presenters

  1. Gay Byrne (1962-99)
  2. Frank Hall replaced Byrne for a season while Byrne went to BBC 2[?]
  3. Pat Kenny (1999-present)

The Gay Byrne Years: 1962-1999


Gay Byrne
first presenter of the Late Late Show (1962-1999)

Byrne's style of presentation was one of the reasons behind its almost immediate success. A natural presenter capable of putting guests at their ease, he created the impression that the interview was almost akin to a casual chat, yet one that could delve into the most sensitive issues on occasion. Internationally Byrne was regarded as one of the best television hosts in the world, with a presentation style studied by 'would be' chat show hosts in many countries. In particular, Byrne's ability to jump from lightweight chat with a boyband to a heavyweight interview with a politician, a religious leader, or a campaigner on a cause made the Late Late Show 'must watch' TV, all the more so because it did not announce its guests in advance, leading to an air of mystery and anticipation.

The flexibility of the show was augmented by Byrne's position not merely as the show's presenter but also as its producer and director for much of his period with the show. He skillfully reminded the view that the show was being broadcast live through his interreaction with people working on the scenes. Some of his phrases became legendary; when instructing that a piece of video-tape be played, he invariably announced 'you can roll it there, Colette.' He'd chat to the floor manager, inquiring as to what telephone line a caller what ringing in on, and on a particularly good show would extend its running time by fifteen or thirty minutes, discussing the extra running time with the floor staff and production team as an 'aside' during an interview. The effect of all these mannerisms added to the sense of realism in the show, that, as the theme music at the end of the show stated, 'it happened on the Late Late Show.' Until the mid 1970s, most Irish TV viewers only received one television station, RTÉ, meaning the its shows, most especially the Late Late Show, became a shared communal experience for the Irish nation, with the show being discussed the following day and sometimes for much of the following week.

The show's intimacy was added to by its set design, which remained much the same throughout the Byrne years. Byrne and his main interviewee of the moment say behind a tall desk, which acted almost like a bar-top in public house, on which Byrne and his guest chatted like ordinary men and women having a drink. Guests often remained after their segment had been completed, creating a convivial atmosphere in which an array of guests would interreact. The Show's corporate identity was stressed through the use of a distinctive signature theme, catchphrases and a running order that was flexible enough to deal with any problems that might arise. In 1999, having presented the show for 37 years, along with a radio show for approximately 20 years, Byrne stepped down from fulltime broadcasting, though he remains an occasional broadcaster, returning to do such shows as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (though the latter was controversially axed by RTÉ in June 2003).

The 'Late Late' under Pat Kenny


Pat Kenny
third presenter of the Late Late Show (1999 - present)
The retirement of Byrne left RTÉ with a problem. The Late Late Show dominated its TAM ratings (viewership figures). Without it, it risked losing its dominance on Friday nights to the other stations available to Irish viewers; Britain's BBC ONE, BBC TWO, UTV[?], Channel 4 and the various BSkyB satellite channels, as well as Ireland's own TV3[?] and TG4[?]. Some suggested that the show be dropped, arguing that the day of chat shows was over and that the show's success was too linked with Byrne to work with any other presenter. RTÉ however, supported by Byrne, decided to keep the show, arguing that it was too valuable a franchise to lose, particularly when it would then be open to the largely unwatched TV 3 (a new Irish station largely dominated by British and American soap operas, and whose lack of Irish programming was already been criticised extensively) to launch a new show using the name and so capture many of the show's traditional viewerbase. While media reports suggested that comedians and chat show hosts (on BBC and Channel 4 respectively) Patrick Kielty[?] and Graham Norton might be asked to present it, and Byrne had groomed someone he thought had the personality to take on both his radio and TV shows, Joe Duffy[?], RTÉ gave the show to its main rival chat show host to Byrne, Pat Kenny, who for nearly a decade had presented his own Kenny Live[?] show in the Late Late's old Saturday night spot, which the Late Late had vacated in the late 1980s to reduce Byrne's workload. (He also presented a five mornings a week radio, initially called the Gay Byrne Hour, later the Gay Byrne Show. A Saturday night TV show meant that Byrne worked a six say week, an increasing strain for a man in his late 50s at the time.)

The choice of Kenny was controversial. Kenny was criticised as a wooden and overly boring presenter. His show Kenny Live had a long rivalry with the Late Late, with their staffs even clashing on one occasion. Initially Kenny talking of "parking" the Late Late for a few years; instead in was Kenny Live that was parked. Kenny brought with him his entire Kenny Live staff while the outgoing Late Late staff left with Byrne. Controversially, Kenny and his staff totally changed almost every aspect of the Late Late. Its distinctive title music was axed, as was its graphics package. Guests instead of remaining on were to be only involved in their own segment. A new set abandoned the traditional presenter's desk. Unlike Byrne, Kenny had his guests announced in advance. Other than the name and the use of an owl as the show's symbol, and a traditional toy show edition, when the presenter and specially brought in children looked at the lastest toys available for the Christmas market, little of Byrne's Late Late Show survived Byrne's retirement. Even the show's two catchphrases, "it happened on the Late Late Show", and "one for everyone in the audience" (when having shown some item on the show, Byrne would announce how there was "one for everyone in the audience" to audience delirium) were dropped.

The public response to the changes was almost wholly negative. A show that had almost invariably featured in the top three in the TAM ratings (usually at number 1) dropped out of the top ten. Set adjustments were adopted, while over time Kenny's previously notoriously wooden performances changed as he became more relaxed but he still failed to achieve the informality of Byrne. In addition the fractionalisation of the viewership, which had an ever-growing list of alternative channels to watch, hit the new Kenny Late Late, which overall lost one-third of Byrne's viewing numbers. However by Kenny's third season, the show recovered somewhat, climbing high in the TAMs again.

Kenny's main strength remained his journalistic background, which allowed him to handle serious issues as an inquiring journalist. His weakeness remained his stiff persona which seemed rigidly stuck to the pre-arranged script, unlike Byrne who could go off on a tangent, react to audience questions, extend the show's length, etc. As a result, while the Late Late Show remained for many required viewing, media commentators suggested that it lacked the sense of unpredictability and surprise that had been the hallmark of the Late Late prior to Kenny becoming presenter.

RTÉ management however remained worried about weakenesses in the new Kenny Late Late Show. In May 2003, as the programme finished its most recent season and went off air for three months, media reports suggested that a wholescale review of the Late Late was being ordered, with show when it returns in September 2003 having a redesigned set and style. In part RTÉ's worries were based on the threatened launch of a rival one hour chat show to be presented by controversial journalist, author and soccer-pundit, Eamon Dunphy[?] on TV3. There is currently no suggestion that Kenny may be axed as presenter or that the show itself could be dropped.

format

The format of the Late Late Show has remained largely the same. Broadcast live for two hours in front of a studio audience at 9.30pm (for over twenty years on Saturday nights, now on Friday nights), the show involves music, chat, audience involvement in debates.

Famous or Infamous Guests

Among the many guests on the 'Late Late' over nearly 40 years were:

Some famous Bands or singers who started their careers on the Late Late Show

Sources

Media commentaries on the Late Late Show, particularly during the changeover of presenters in 1999, in The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent, Sunday Tribune, the Irish Examiner. Information also supplied by the press office of Radio Telifís Éireann.



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