Sex, stars and screen ratings: influence of 'Late Late' still a hot topic 50 years on
IT’S 1964. There’s not much on the television on a Saturday night. The Virginian. Nuacht. And then The Late Late Show. And there’s not much on that either.
The guests were poor, said the critics, and the discussions tedious. After two years the panellists were predictable, the production standards terrible. It compared badly with UK chat shows.
According to The Irish Times, the guests were “not always as happily chosen as the singing Holmes family from Aughrim, who appeared last Saturday, the sprightly nun from Australia, with her music-hall turn, and the humorous travelling bard”.
And the presenter? Time for a change. Frank Hall – the overlooked second host of the show, who stepped in during Gay Byrne’s brief sabbatical to the BBC – left, supposedly, due to the pressure of work. But there was also the pressure of the critics, who wondered quite what the point of the show was.
Tonight The Late Late Show will celebrate its 50th anniversary. We know the statistics – longest-running chat show in the world; consistently the highest-rated in Ireland – but we can also reel off the criticisms.
Poor guests. Dull discussions. Predictable topics. Compares badly with UK shows. And the presenter? Time for a change.
You could take a random sample of TV reviews from much of its history and find those complaints. There was a period, during its middle years, when it and Byrne had firmly established its greatness on Irish television, when the brickbats eased off a little, but long before he left the show in 1999, its “glory days” were considered to be gone.
And yet it endures. Tonight’s show – which features Byrne and Pat Kenny, as well as Liam Neeson, Imelda May and Daniel O’Donnell – may revel in those past glories, but we can presume that it will be a celebration of both its survival and its future.
The critics have proclaimed its death so many times that, despite its apparent flaws, it must feel indestructible. Or, at least, immovable.
Its influence on Irish life over its 50 years – or more accurately, during its first quarter century – remains a subject of lively discussion. The show was a recurring feature in Diarmaid Ferriter’s recent Occasions of Sin: Sex and Society in Modern Ireland, in which he examined Oliver J Flanagan’s oft-quoted claim there was no sex in Ireland before television, and which is usually affixed to the Late Late. Ferriter concluded that a generation would have gone through their lives without hearing a discussion about sex were it not for the chat show.