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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: March 14, 2009 @ 11:55 am

    Q&A goes but comes back under another name

    Deaglán de Bréadún

    There’s a big debate going on about the end of newspapers, at least in their print form. That’s alarming enough but now people are starting to talk about the end of television.

    Certainly this is a very challenging time for serious newspapers and serious television programmes. Advertising revenue – the “gintleman that pays the rent” – is way down. But public reading and viewing habits are changing.

    We all know about the switch to the Net among newspaper readers. A senior journalist from the New York Times said on a visit here some time ago that he was giving a talk to a group of about 200 students at Princeton University: only one had read that day’s print edition of his newspaper, the others had all taken it online.

    The Net, or Web if you like, must be taking viewers away from TV as well. People now have so many choices, even in televisionland itself, although it is often a case of, in Bruce Springsteen’s words, “fifty-seven channels and nothin’ on”.

    The arrival of Big Brother and other forms of ”reality” TV has been a further blow to serious programming.  Time was, when TV was even seen as an educational medium. Does anyone remember Telefís Scoile?

    In this context, trying to mount a serious TV discussion programme about politics is a major challenge. RTE’s main contribution to the genre has been Questions and Answers. Now we are told it is to be brought to an end after 23 years.

    But a similar type of programme at the same time, also with audience participation, will take its place and already the speculation is under way: who will be the new presenter?

    With a programme like this you are to a large extent at the mercy of the political parties. If the main government party (you know who I mean) decide to send a junior minister or backbencher onto the show, that’s a big setback. Even if the junior minister is relatively intelligent and entertaining, he/she just isn’t a player. You have to be in Cabinet.

    Another difficulty is trying to rustle up an audience on a Monday night. People have better things to be doing and it just doesn’t have the cachet of the Late Late Show. Q&A has beefed-up the audience with invited guests. What’s irritating is that these are not identified as such – although you can usually make a reasonable guess.

    Personally speaking, I tend to watch Q&A from the start-time of about 10.30 until 11.00 pm when  I usually switch over to Vincent Browne’s show on TV3. By that stage the major issue of the day has usually been covered on Q&A and I’m unlikely to miss anything vital in the second half.

    Browne’s show has the entertainment value that drew the crowds to the Colosseum in Rome all those centuries ago. His interview technique reminds me of the Bad Guy in the old cowboy movie who whips out his six-gun in the saloon and starts firing shots into the floor beside the feet of a frightened fellow-customer, with the accompanying mantra, “Dance, boy, dance!”

    I know it’s the Theatre of Cruelty, but it’s very entertaining. You can nearly always be sure that the man or woman – usually a politician from one of the government parties – sitting in the chair nearest to Browne is going to get it in the neck. The other guests are really just a chorus.

    You couldn’t have that on the National Broadcaster because you are in the realm of Official Ireland and it would be considered unseemly. What a pity. Browne also draws from a wider pool of journalists for his panel: some faces you just don’t tend to see on  Q&A. It’s a bit of a talking-point in some media circles.

    It doesn’t sound like RTE is going to go for a new format with its replacement for Q&A. Perhaps there will be a greater emphasis on “yoof” (youth) which is a longstanding and traditional slogan among executives right across all branches of the media who have no other ideas rolling around in their heads.

    One big improvement would be to bring the programme forward to 9.30 or 10 pm so we could all get to bed a little earlier. What is it about politics programmes that the stations feel they have to put them out so late at night? Is there a big audience for political debate among insomniacs?

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    • Another Deaglan says:

      My wife and I reduced our channels to the terrestrials (RTE’s, TV3 and TG4) a number of years ago and now watch most of our TV online. Most of my opinion reading is done online via blogs or online newspapers. Q & A (and occasional sporting events) was probably the only TV programme we still tuned into on the telly. Our TV reception for Browne is just too fuzzy to bother. Barring prohibitive legislation or site blocking (such as the IMRA ‘initiative’) conventional TV really does seem to be on the way out.

      But my daily news is still via the broadsheet…

      BTW – Jeff might just be spam…

    • Peter B says:

      I have felt that Q&A has become somewhat jaded, though the need for a programme like this is clear. I agree that the Vincent Browne porgramme on TV3 is much more gripping and entertaining – it’s gritty and to the point – but I can’t see any Government Ministers having the b*lls to participate!

    • Deaglán says:

      Poltiicians are drawn to television like moths to a flame.

    • Harry Leech says:

      Questions & Answers’ main problem for many years has been the same as that of the broadsheets: Voter apathy.

      While taxes were being cut and we all thought the future was rosy the nation got lazy and uninterested in the political process. Everything got lazy and the easiest way to get good viewer numbers/readers was to dumb it down.

      FF, PDs, etc., could get away with sending down an awkward backbencher to taunt the opposition representative, which they won’t be able to do now.

      I think you’re right that the time needs to be moved back: as soon as the RTE news is finished the show should start (with a promo on the commercial break of the news.)

      As for more ‘yoof’ involvement, the last thing we need are more spotty, shouty cumann members from FF/FG/Labour youth on TV spouting the party line!

    • Deaglán says:

      Hear, hear on the “yoof”, from that particular angle. You are “spot”-on!

    • Jonathan says:

      Well, I for one won’t be mourning Q&A’s passing. It might have stolen the BBC’s “Question Time” format, it has taken all of the substance out of it by having a cherry-picked audience of party hacks and activists and by informing the panel in advance of what’s going to be discussed. It’s staid, fusty and musty, and no real discussion ever develops as people only go there to make speeches and not to talk with other people.

    • Deaglán says:

      One suspects RTE may be somewhat alarmed by reports we are all hearing about high viewer figures for the Vincent Browne programme on TV3.
      It might be worth reconsidering the automatic representation of the parties on what I will call, for the moment, “Q&A2″. The calibre of our elected representatives is very mixed, to put it diplomatically.
      If, as I understand is still the case, the parties are allowed to nominate their own representative, then you are really in trouble.

    • robespierre says:

      Most people will have forgotten this but one year, Q&A broadcast for most of the summer with Vincent Browne filling in for Bowman while he was on holidays.

      The Omagh bombing happened and Browne handled the three weeks so extraordinarily well that the torpor that reaffirmed itself when the aescetic Bowman took the helm again was palpable. For me the rot set in there and then.

      I have subsequently noted that Browne was never again allowed chair Q&A and he very rarely guested since then (I know his radio programme was cotermnious for most of the time but still).

      While I have reservations about Browne’s ideological hang-ups, champagne socialism and gonzo journalism he is, as you point out, good value for money.

    • Deaglán says:

      Let the speculation cease forthwith. The obvious choice to present the new version of Questions and Answers is our very own Newton Emerson. His column in today’s Irish Times shows he understands the job better than any other potential candidate:


    • Dan Sullivan says:

      Deaglán, I was an invited audience member once and have been a regular audience member on more than a few occasions.

      The first problem (and it’s only as a means of ordering such things) is that the broad thrust of the questions is known to the panellists in advance and the pols in particular have their advisers bone up on the topic so the minister or front bench won’t seem too uninformed.

      Secondly, the big difference with Question Time is that Question Time moves about coming from different parts each week and so the audience tends to be more representative as the novelty of attending draws in regular punters. With Q&A married to Montrose the regular Joe audience pool has long since dried up and it is usually made up of a few party people, some interested community group types, some political anoraks with some bulking up from across the road at UCD.

      Thirdly, the government is too easily let away with sending juniors and backbenchers to debate with front bench representatives of the other parties. RTE should simply ask for a member of the front bench and if none are available then have two opposition spokespeople front and centre and relegate the junior minister/lowly backbencher to the sidelines.

      Fourthly, I think some live or close to live rating from the viewing audience at home of the contributors/panellists would be interesting (though it could take on too populist a tone if handled badly). The audience should be able to ban people from future panels either for 6/12 months or perhaps indefinitely.

      Lastly, why are people with their own existing mouthpieces given yet another platform? Newspaper editors and columnists have an opportunity already to voice their opinions do they really need another?

    • Deaglán says:





      Following the recent news that RTE’s flagship current affairs programme Questions and Answers is to come to an end in June alongside John Bowman’s departure as presenter, bookies Paddy Power have chalked up some odds on who will fill Bowman’s shoes in a new similar style current affairs programme, which it is hoped will fill the void left by Q&A.

      There’s quite literally ‘little’ between the top few in the betting with Paddy Power making Bryan Dobson their 4/1 favourite to be given his own current affairs show followed by Prime Time presenters Mark Little and Miriam O’Callaghan at 6/1.

      Well known Crimecall presenters Anne Cassin and Con Murphy are 8/1 in the betting alongside chief RTE correspondent Charlie Bird.

      Outsiders in the betting include celebrity financial advisor Eddie Hobbs at 16/1, man of the people Joe Duffy at 20/1, terrible twins Podge and Rodge at 100/1 and foul mouthed turkey Dustin at 500/1. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern even makes the list albeit at outside odds of 33/1. Given his stint at presenting The Road to Croker, and his experience as a pundit on RTE’s The Premiership, a current affairs programme could be right up Bertie’s alley!

      Sharon McHugh, spokesperson for Paddy Power said: “RTE haven’t yet announced any concrete plans to replace Q&A with a definite new programme. Ironically the axing of the 23 year old show has left viewers and punters with a lot of questions and no answers!”

      Who will host RTE’s new current affairs programme?
      4/1 Bryan Dobson
      6/1 Mark Little
      6/1 Miriam O’Callaghan
      8/1 Anne Cassin
      8/1 Charlie Bird
      8/1 Con Murphy
      10/1 George Lee
      10/1 Ursula Halligan
      10/1 David Davinpower
      12/1 Dave McWilliams
      14/1 Rachel English
      14/1 Gerry Ryan
      16/1 Joe O Shea
      16/1 Eddie Hobbs
      18/1 Adrian Kennedy
      20/1 Joe Duffy
      20/1 Vincent Browne
      25/1 Ryan Tubridy
      33/1 Bertie Ahern
      100/1 Podge & Rodge
      500/1 Dustin

      Others on request


      For more information, please contact:
      Sharon McHugh (Ire) – +353 1 488 1716 / +353 87 922 4143 / smchugh@paddypower.com

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