What will replace Questions and Answers?
…. another Questions and Answers, of course.
Most people who have more than a passing interest in Irish politics would have looked at the last episode of Q and A last night.
For the first time in its almost quarter of a century run, the format was changed. We had interchangeable panels, no questions from the audience and plenty of clips fromt he past (which were great!).
I really loved the Before They Were Famous sequence which showed clips from members of the audience who subsequenty went on to greater things (ie became TDs): There was Liz O’Donnell with short hair and drop earrings and looking way less glamorous than she does now; Eamon Ryan (with close cropped hair); Finian McGrath; and Leo Varadkar from 2000, who must have been in his first year of college at the time.
I wasn’t sure if the format worked last night. The panellists were asked to review the last quarter of a century. There were loads of references to Joe Lee’s seminal 1912-1985 and an interesting bit of argy-bargy between Fergus Finlay and John Waters on Brian Lenihan and the presidential election of 1990. Finlay won that bit hands down. The fact of the matter is that once you tell a lie, no matter about how trivial, you are a gonner. A good example. Mark Sandford, the Governor of South Carolina, who lied about his his recent absence (he said he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail when in reality he was with his lover in Argentina) is hanging on after being caught out in a lie. But he won’t hang on for too long. Another good example. Silvio Berlusconi. But he is the ultimate survivor and will, unbelievably, hang on.
It was sad to come to the end of the programme. The interview with Brian Cowen was flat and Cowen was not very inspiring, even thought he questions were difficult ones: Bowman sought societal, abstract and long-view answers, which aren’t easy.
Especially on Questions and Answers. Of all the programmes I have been on, it was always the most nerve-racking. Being live in front of a studio audience and a bigger audience at home always drove swarms of butterflies into the stomach. And while you always had a fair inkling of the topics, the problem was that by the time Bowman came round to you, somebody else had made your (very very clever!) point or the debate had moved on or people were shouting at each other. As a journalistic expected to give sober analysis you could not do that so you tended to kick for touch by making a bland observation.
The sign-off last night was so typically Bowman. It was low-key and undramatic. No U2 arriving in. No champagne. No tricks. He just thanked all those who had worked with him and brought it all to a quiet and dignified close.
And Pat Kenny will be back in the autumn with something new. It won’t be called Q and A and there will be some new tricks and a change of formatting.
But I can guaranee that it will be the same overall. A panel of politicians and others; questions from the audience; all of the questions relating to the topical issue of the day. And it will always be best when there’s a row. Or passion. Or the furies.
It’s worked for wll over 20 years and longer on the BBC. You can’t reinvent the wheel.