Jim Carroll

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TV gold: Tonight With Vincent Browne

There’s only going to be one winner in the forthcoming general election and that’s the grumpy Limerickman with the weird eyebrows who locks up the TV3 studio most nights of the week and leaves the key under the mat for …

Tue, Jan 25, 2011, 09:55


There’s only going to be one winner in the forthcoming general election and that’s the grumpy Limerickman with the weird eyebrows who locks up the TV3 studio most nights of the week and leaves the key under the mat for the early arrivals the next morning. Over the next month, more and more TV viewers are going to discover what many of us have known for a very long time: Tonight With Vincent Browne is TV gold. It’s provides more ROFLOL moments than Fade Street, the All-Ireland Talent Show and Xpose (without Paul Galvin) combined. When you have TDs like Conor Lenihan (last week) and Joan Burton (last night) blowing up live on air, you know you’re on something good. Or maybe there’s something other than water or tea in those mugs the guests continuously slurp from during the show.

TWVB is certainly a far better prospect when it comes to political coverage than anything RTE TV have on their schedules at the moment. Look, which would you prefer, Vinnie raising those feral eyebrows to heaven or Pat Kenny fuming on The Frontline and coming across as a third-rate Joe Duffy imitator? There’s speculation that RTE are considering putting on a show to rival TWVB during the election, which has as much chance usurping Vinnie as the choice of late-night TV junkies as I have of togging out for Tipp this summer. A show presented by Keelin Shanley versus a grumpy Vinnie? He’d eat her alive, without salt and pepper. Charlie Bird in the RTE hot-seat? Riiiight….

There are a ton of reasons why TWVB should not work. It’s on TV3, for God’s sake, a channel not exactly over-endowed with great shows or great ideas (unless they’re imported from the UK). Vinnie has been around the block more times than Enda Kenny and is not exactly what TV people fancy when it comes to presenters. The show comes live and direct from an industrial estate out in the wilds of suburban Dublin, which is not a great attraction to on-the-make politicians and media folk.

Those arguments, like all the others, have been blown right out of the water. TWVB is proof that every TV channel eventually hits gold. It’s also proof that it’s the old dog for the hard road and everything TV producers and directors think they know about perfectly groomed presenters is really hogwash. And while a show like TWVB won’t be busting The Late, Late Show’s chops for viewers any time soon, it’s still a huge draw for the right constituency to warrant those politicians, pol corrs and pundits to risk a taxi ride to the westside.

What makes the show work is a potent combination of presenter, politician and pantomine. While Browne does occasionally let people off the hook (Joe Higgins in the early stages of last night’s show is a case in point), he will lay into most guests with great curmudgeony gusto. Other presenters have different methods – Richard Crowley is fantastic at the softly-softly approach which allows the subject to snare themselves on the hooks – but Browne just sighs, tuts, groans, grimaces, smirks and snorts away until he annoys, irks, irritates and goads the politician into making a fool of themselves. Then, he plays with them like a young greyhound chewing on a rabbit. As we’ve seen over the last few days with Lenihan and Burton, even experienced hands fall for it. It’s a method which also exposes politicians for who they are – look at the smug behaviour of (soon-to-be-ex) Senator Dan Boyle last week, for example. Or maybe the senator is always like that?

What we should hope for is that party leaders will have a collective mad rush of blood to the head and agree to appear on TWVB over the election period. Now, that will be something to behold. Certainly, if I was a Fine Gael or Sinn Fein handler, I’d be making damn sure Enda Kenny and Gerry Adams were let nowhere near a microphone, never mind the TV3 studios around the midnight hour. As anyone who heard Adams on Morning Ireland earlier today knows, the numptie is again trying to talk about the Irish economy and coming across as someone who has just mastered the art of multiplication. Every time people have a look at Pearse Doherty and see him as a bright, reasonable, energetic politician, Gerry comes along the next day to remind us of the real Sinn Fein and that a vote for Pearse is a vote for Gerry.

Put Adams, Kenny and the others on TWVB for a night and you’d surely have something to behold. No easy rides (we hope), no pulled punches, no rambling. Just lots of raised eyebrows, upturned lips and strange glances at the camera. Just like this. Watch all the way to the end.

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