Making The Late Late Show: What Tub's tie tells us

We go behind the scenes at one of the world’s longest-running chatshows

 

It’s Friday morning, on April 22nd, and Ryan Tubridy is looking at his suits and ties. There’s a row of them, amid racks of more outlandish costumes in the RTÉ wardrobe department.

“This is my taking-life-quite-seriously tie,” he says, picking up one with navy and grey stripes. “If you see that coming on you’ll know the show is going to be intense. If I’m feeling a little bit like spring is in the air I’ll pick that.” He points at a red and white tie. “I like ties that pack a punch.”

A bright paisley tie is prominently displayed. “They want me to wear that,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s right for tonight. It looks like something Tom Dunne would like as a shirt.”

There’s also a suit of a brighter, lighter fabric. “They put this in cold storage till spring. I might go for it, but I’m not going to wear that tie, no way. It’s not working for me.”

He is, at this point, deep in thought, examining variations of the same suit. He takes out ties and holds them against shirts. He picks up a pink tie and considers it. It feels like a weirdly private moment.

Did the other Late Late Show presenters come and check their suits? “I doubt it. I like a nice suit. I like a nice tie.”

He’s still staring intently at the rack. Then he snaps out of it. “I’m not normally this attentive, to be honest with you. I’m just feeling it today . . . It’s part of getting my head together.”

I’ve been watching Ryan get his head together for a few days. I’ve been following the Late Late Show team all week as they prepare the show. I’m surprised they let me. I’ve asked to do this in the past, but I’ve always been refused.

I am slightly obsessed with the ongoing success of The Late Late Show. You can mock it (and I have: “It lives not, yet cannot die” is how I opened a piece about it last year), but it’s arguably the biggest programme on Irish television – and the second-oldest talkshow in the world. It attracts almost 42 per cent of all TV watchers (up 2 percentage points on last year). As the team keep telling me, Graham Norton only gets about 20 per cent in the UK.

This article isn’t a cultural analysis, by the way. It’s a behind-the-scenes piece. I want to hang out with the team and see how this behemoth gets made. Why it gets made is a question for another day. (The short answer is: the ratings.)

On Monday I meet the series producer, John McMahon, and the executive producer, Larry Masterson, before their first production meeting of the week.

McMahon is fashionably bearded, funny, detail oriented and likely to express worry. Masterson, who is 68, is stubbly and casual. He likes broad strokes and the word “f**k”. “We often disagree,” says McMahon. “Which is good for the show.”

McMahon has been on the show for two years. Masterson joined last year but had spent four years here during the Pat Kenny era. Everyone who works on the Late Late seems delightfully baffled by it. “It’s not something you’d ever invent today,” says McMahon. “It’s a preposterous idea to do a two-hour live television show for 37 weeks where you talk to celebrities and have live music and talk about tragedies.”

 

Guests: the maybe pile

On Monday the confirmed guests are the RTÉ presenter Maura Derrane, the body-positivity activist and self-described bearded dame Harnaam Kaur and the singer-songwriter John Spillane.

The maybe pile includes Adi Roche and Ali Hewson on the anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster; Mike Murphy and the archivist Catriona Crowe on Epic Ireland, the new diaspora museum in Dublin (see page 3); a famous golfer; and, possibly, a well-known actor whom Tubridy recently met in a pub.

Masterson signs off the meeting by saying, “If Tom Cruise rings, tell him I’m not taking his calls.”

Tuesday is when the researchers chase interviewees and write briefs. Wednesday is when the line-up comes together, the musical stings are decided and the studio is assembled. “But there’s really only anything to see on Thursday,” says McMahon.

So on Thursday I have coffee with Tubridy, McMahon and Masterson. Tubridy talks about how he shifts from serious to light over a single episode. He calls it the gear change. Later he says it’s like being the costume-changing 1970s cartoon character Mr Benn.

We walk towards their offices. Tubridy rode in on his Vespa and is in a great mood, although he feels that people are being insufficiently sympathetic about his trip to the physiotherapist. “They pummelled the shit out of my neck.”

“Lots of people want to do that, Ryan,” says McMahon.

I ask questions as we walk. Has he changed much as an interviewer? “Hugely so,” says Tubridy. “I’ve changed as a person. I’m less self-regarding, less impressed by myself.”

Why? “Turning 40.”

“And your dad,” says McMahon.

“My dad dying was something that would affect you greatly,” says Tubridy. “But I don’t want to get into that.”

How does being less self-regarding affect interviewing? “You’re more about the person you’re talking to than yourself,” he says. “Larry says the word ‘ownership’ a lot, which is a great word. I have taken ‘ownership’ of the Tardis. I say this is the Tardis and that I’m just the latest Dr Who. It’s a great analogy for British guests. This thing is 50 years old. I don’t own it. I’m just minding it for the next Time Lord.”

We arrive at the open-plan office that they share with The Ray D’Arcy Show. The teams know each other well. Masterson and a researcher, Carol Louthe, came to the Late Late from The Saturday Night Show. (Masterson can’t contain his glee recalling when The Saturday Night Show beat The Late Late Show in the ratings.) “We’d always wonder by about Wednesday who they’ve got,” says Louthe.

On Tubridy’s desk are a knitted Tubridy doll, a photograph of him with Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, a fake inspirational poster with a photograph of Tubridy looking out to sea and the line “I wish I was in O’Donoghue’s”, two Patrick Pearse cufflinks and a postcard from the singer and actor Bronagh Gallagher. The card is a reproduction of the cover of RD Laing’s The Divided Self. “That’s worrying,” says Tubridy. “Are there messages to be read into here?”

There’s a couch in the corner behind Masterson’s desk, and they gather there to brief Tubridy. Now the confirmed line-up is Mike Murphy and Catriona Crowe; Maura Derrane; Harnaam Kaur; Adi Roche and Ali Hewson and two young women from Chernobyl; the songwriter John Spillane; and a panel with the satirist Oliver Callan, the journalist Dearbhail McDonald and the chef Richard Corrigan. The golfer declined the invitation.

 

‘Put it into Ryanspeak’

They start briefing Tubridy for his interview with Kaur. “Society says you must conform, and she’s not conforming,” says Tubridy, holding notes prepared by Kate Olohan, another researcher. “Within four to six minutes [the viewer] should go, ‘Fair play’.”

“She has a tattoo of herself on her arm,” says Olohan.

“Which arm?” asks Alan Byrne, the show’s director, trying to figure out if he can get it in shot.

Olohan reads a possible introduction. “We’ll put it into Ryanspeak,” says Masterson.

What’s Ryanspeak? “All intros have to undergo Tubridification,” says Masterson

“Ryan doesn’t say ‘fabulous’,” says McMahon.

“And I don’t like the word ‘journey’ unless it’s literally about someone getting a bus somewhere,” says Tubridy.

This afternoon McMahon will sit down and write tomorrow’s script. “I listen to a lot of Beatles to channel his voice,” he says later.

“I’m musically very predictable,” says Tubridy. He mimics a phonograph playing jazzy music from the 1920s.

Tubridy takes any opportunity to talk about music, TV, books and films. He likes to recommend things. “Have you seen All I Desire, with Barbara Stanwyck?” he asks Byrne.

Next they discuss Murphy, Crowe and the diaspora museum. “It’s about the Irish and their . . .” Masterson pauses. “I was about to say ‘journey’.”

“The J-bombs don’t need to be dropped,” says Tubridy.

“This is the opening item,” says McMahon. “Top of the show.”

“I think that’s a big risk,” says Tubridy. “History is a hard thing to sell. Mike Murphy lessens the risk, but . . . I’m worried you’ll lose them.”

Masterson responds that almost every family has been affected by emigration. “Well, that’s the intro,” says Tubridy. “ ‘There’s hardly a family watching who hasn’t had a relative leave the island . . .’ ”

After a while Masterson says, “I hear your concerns about opening with this.”

“The cherry on the cake would be to find a real nice story of the week,” says Tubridy, “Something [with] more of a party atmosphere.”

“When are you taking up The Generation Game?” says Masterson.

“I’d nearly start with Chernobyl,” says Tubridy later.

There’s an intake of breath from Masterson. “Really?”

“Those children’s stories are amazing,” says Tubridy. “You could start with the two girls rather than Adi and Ali. ‘Here’s a picture of you as a child. Do you remember that?’ And they’re talking about Magdalene laundry stuff. And now – college, working – amazing, positive, optimistic.”

“Anna” – one of the girls – “now works for the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation, ” says the researcher Katherine Cahill.

“That’s magnificent,” says Tubridy.

“She has a real Cork accent,” says Cahill.

“That’s even better!” says Tubridy.

Tubridy imagines a bit of an intro. “Those children are now adults . . . I’d like you to meet two of them.”

Masterson is sold. “That’s a much better way of doing the story,” he says.

“I’m very happy now,” says Tubridy. “We have an opener.”

What do they need from an opener? “Ideally, just something a little different, to engage,” says Tubridy.

“Equally, ending with Oliver Callan on a rant works,” says McMahon. “People like that.”

What if there are still gaps in the schedule on Friday?

“Oh, f**k,” says Masterson.

“There’s your answer,” says Tubridy.

 

‘At 21.55 we need to be good’

McMahon shows me a graph. It’s a minute-by-minute analysis of the show’s viewership. “See here,” he says, pointing to a spike. “That’s 21.55, when there are ad breaks [on every other channel]. We need to be good then, so when they flick they see something worth seeing.”

“That was the ‘cyclone game’,” he says, pointing to a spike during an audience quiz. “People love audience madness. We get loads of stuff on Twitter – ‘Ah, more crap on the Late Late.’ But that stuff works.”

Since Masterson came on board, The Late Late Show has reoriented itself more unapologetically towards Irish content. “Irish people like to see themselves on television” is a truism around here. This is also making a virtue of necessity. International stars don’t come to Dublin much. (Tubridy’s dream guests are Bill Clinton and Paul McCartney, and he will buy dinner for the researcher who snags them.)

Do guests ever ask for excessive fees? McMahon points at the wall of fame above the couch, which includes photographs of Eva Longoria, Russell Crowe, Ed Sheeran and Saoirse Ronan. “I don’t think we paid a penny to anyone on that wall.” If someone is promoting something they’re not offered a fee. For others, fees can range from €200 to €2,000. Louthe tells me that one former pop star asked for €10,000. They didn’t pay.

They consider the music and chat section with John Spillane. Tubridy wants him to sing Óró, Sé Do Bheatha ’Bhaile, “because that’s heartland nostalgia”.

Maura Fay, a researcher, groans. “It reminds me of being in the Gaeltacht.”

“Exactly!” says Tubridy.

“Ah, the smell of chalk in the classroom,” says Masterson. Masterson is quite good at expressing delight.

“How come no one is asking about my trip to the physio yesterday?” asks Tubridy again.

“Because we don’t give a shit,” says McMahon.

“We don’t care,” says Masterson

“ ‘I’m fine’ is the answer to the question you should have asked,” says Tubridy, pretending to be hurt.

At noon Tubridy goes down to the studio to do a promotional Facebook Live broadcast.

“Why do I do it again?” asks Tubridy.

“Because you love it,” says Suzy Griffin, a social-media co-ordinator at RTÉ, who has a phone and a tripod ready.

 

‘You turn into a different person’

Before the broadcast Tubridy brings me through the stage door where the guests enter to a concrete-and-plywood corridor covered in wires. “This is the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain,” he says.

“So you’re standing here.” He starts mimicking the drumbeat in the theme tune. “They’re starting to clap and bray. And you’re going . . .” He puts on a thoughtful expression. “ ‘What am I doing? What’s the first thing?’ Then you walk out.”

He walks out. “Yaaah!” He puts his hands up to demonstrate the force of the cheer. “The light hits you. The band is playing. You pop down to a mark here and start talking. You turn into a different person.”

He stops. “I get nervous even talking about it.”

Is he still as nervous? “Yes, but it’s an extension of my house now. It took a while to get used to the Tardis. There are so many other footprints on it.”

Tubridy sits on the couch and talks to the Facebook Live viewers. He discusses First Dates, mods, text etiquette, Kilkenny (“Not a city”) and the speech patterns of millennials. He takes a call on air. It’s a wrong number. He’s very entertaining.

Tubridy, McMahon and I go to lunch. We’re joined by Michael Kealy, the executive producer of The Ray D’Arcy Show. Is there much rivalry between the shows? “We have the occasional row that Ryan is not party to,” says Kealy.

As we queue for roast turkey Tubridy chats with people in the line. “I call this place Montrosia,” says Tubridy. He loves going on the road with the radio show, he says, getting “out of the bubble”.

Could they do that with the Late Late?

“Yes!” says Tubridy.

“No,” says McMahon. “It would be far too expensive.”

How does he do the show when sick? He doesn’t get sick, he says. “But you can be sad or you can be grumpy. The whole range of human emotions, I have them too.”

“Just as if he were a real boy,” says McMahon, chuckling.

“You have to put the feelings in cold storage,” says Tubridy.

Is he aware of criticisms of the show?

“When I was on Twitter I could tell you that,” says Tubridy.

“Do you want me to tell you?” says Kealy.

What about when things spiral out of control? “Those are often my favourite bits,” says Tubridy. He recalls the actor Ryan O’Neal talking scurrilously about his own daughter. In his head, says Tubridy, he responds to those scenarios “like the audience does . . . but instead of saying ‘that’s insane’ . . . I say, ‘Some people would find that peculiar.’ ”

He laughs. “There are actually two Late Late Shows: this one and the one going on in here.” Tubridy taps his temple. “That one wouldn’t last 54 years. It’s more like Between Two Ferns,” he says, referring to the weird web show hosted by the comedian Zach Galifianakis.

 

‘The dream job’

Back at his desk Tubridy tells me that he recently read a book by the American chatshow host Dick Cavett in which Jack Paar advised him not to be “ ‘like that Frost guy in London with a clipboard – have a conversation.’ Reading that was a cathartic moment for me.”

Did he feel that was a problem? “Oh yeah. I think it was a consistent problem, but – back to hitting a certain age – I think I can now handle asking a question in my own voice.”

He also had a moment 18 months ago, he says, sitting alone in the studio. “Rehearsal had ended, and I looked up and saw the sign and went, ‘Hang on a second. You present The Late Late Show!’ The enormity of it hit me . . . And I sat in the audience and said, ‘So the guest comes out there . . . and you’re doing the interview. This is the dream job.’ I gave myself a good slap that day. I was starting to coast.”

And now? “There are only five or six left in this season. I’d nearly do another run straight away.”

“No!” McMahon groans from across the desk.

Tubridy puts on his Vespa-driving jacket and heads home. Tonight he’ll watch The People v OJ Simpson with his oldest daughter and roast a chicken – his second roast of the day.

The next morning Tubridy is discussing fly-fishing with a quiz contestant on his daily radio show. “Is he different on Friday?” I ask his radio producer, Siobhan Hough. She nods. “The Late Late Show is such a juggernaut,” she says.

After the show the team gather in the radio centre’s small canteen to chat. After a while he gets up to go to what Hough calls his day job.

The radio team call The Late Late Show Shelbyville, says Tubridy; it’s a reference to Springfield’s rival town on The Simpsons. “Though maybe they’re Shelbyville.”

He talks about how much he depends on both teams. “In life there are people who are full stops and people who are commas,” he says. “Commas are the people who I have in friendship and work where you start talking to them and you’re just picking up the sentence from the last conversation. A lot of the people I work with are commas.”

Has he worked with any full stops? “A few,” he says. “It’d be weird if everyone was a comma.”

 

‘Any luck with Conor McGregor?’

Twenty minutes later he’s barrelling through the Tubridified script for tonight’s show. He reads it at speed, sounding like a comedy horse-racing announcer, while McMahon and Masterson chip in with logistical realities. “We’ll do three songs rather than four with John Spillane if we’re over time,” says McMahon.

Going over time is a problem. “In general we’re within a minute or so of where we’re supposed to be,” says McMahon. “Sometimes I ring the head of scheduling and say, ‘I need five minutes,’ and they’ll go, ‘You’ve got a minute and a half.’ ”

Last year they were over a lot. Such episodes end not with a credit sequence but with a quick musical sting. They’ve been within 10 seconds of the allotted time for three of the past four shows. McMahon is proud of this.

They’re already thinking about next week. “Any luck with Conor McGregor?” Masterson asks Ronan Murphy, a researcher.

“No,” says Murphy. “But his statement did say, ‘I don’t want to do meaningless media.’ ”

“Meaningless media! That’s where we come in!” Tubridy says, and laughs.

I watch McMahon refine the quiz question: “According to the hit song, does Garth Brooks have friends in low places, high places or different places?”

It’s very calm. “Disturbingly calm,” says Masterson, like a general surveying the horizon. “That brings its own problems. There’s less for Ryan to do.”

Tubridy starts vigorously cleaning his desk. “My nerves are being transformed into Dettol wipes,” he says.

“After lunch we send him home to sleep,” says McMahon.

And he actually sleeps? “Yes,” says Tubridy. “The 2FM show was quite exhausting, so I was always wrecked . . . Now I’m into the rhythm, so I drift very comfortably into a lovely slumber and I wake up and I’m, like, ‘Right: day two.’ ”

And after the show? “I’m up the walls . . . I go to the pub to meet friends . . . Some nights there are great sing-songs in the green room – me singing Ebony and Ivory with Chic’s bass player and drummer.”

Tubridy goes for his nap. A little later Masterson brings me to the studio for the musical rehearsals. A team of impassive camerafolk push equipment around as Camille O’Sullivan prowls the stage, guiding her band through a cover of Don’t Think Twice.

“Do I hold back or do I go mental?” she asks in a moment of self-doubt.

“Go for it,” says Masterson.

O’Sullivan estimates that she has been on the Late Late nine times. “With Gay, with Pat, with Ryan”. But “since I woke this morning I’ve had butterflies.”

I wander around the neighbouring sets – for RTÉ Sport, for Winning Streak – strange parallel universes accessed via a cavernous warehouse of packing crates. Back in the Late Late studio the country star Lisa McHugh sings about hillbillies to line dancers while her parents film her on their phones.

Tubridy is back, sitting in the audience beside Anne McCoy, the programme department assistant. He runs down to confer with McHugh.

“He’s finding out where she got her pinafore for me,” McCoy explains.

“Topshop,” says Tubridy as he bounds back.

Tubridy is rested and back on form. “You’ve got a nice colour,” McCoy says to Ciarán McDonough, the floor manager, who has been on holiday.

“That’s my blood pressure,” says Tubridy.

“Everything isn’t about you, Ryan,” says McCoy.

“Oh, but it is,” says Tubridy, sitting back with comic smugness.

There’s a heightened jokey atmosphere.

“Ah, you f**king eejit,” says Masterson when a run-through stalls. “No more being nice in front of the press.”

 

‘If the producers say relax, it’s going to be a dodgy show’

A man comes in holding a cherry tree procured to enhance

Spillane’s performance.

“That’s a beautiful thing,” says Tubridy.

“Thanks,” says the man. “But what do you think of the cherry tree?”

At 5pm it’s time for interview rehearsal. Researchers sit in for the guests. Tubridy reads links and banters with the band, whose leader, Jim Sheridan, explains their role: “We make sure he’s never walking to the sound of his own feet.”

At 5.30pm there’s a glitch. Clips won’t play. “If it was 9pm I’d be worried,” says McMahon. He looks worried anyway.

Only once, when an instruction is unclear, does Tubridy become mildly tetchy.

“Relax,” says Masterson.

“Relax,” says McMahon.

Tubridy smiles. “I know it’s going to be a dodgy show when the producers say ‘relax’.”

“Friday is a long day,” says Paddy Cullivan, who plays guitar in the band, at about 7pm. “I call it The Long Long Show.”

Tubridy passes by, holding a navy suit and a pink tie. He didn’t go with the summer suit? “No, I bottled that . . . don’t know why.”

He shows me a dressing room. It’s small, comfortable and clean, “like something from a nice Scandinavian prison”.

A little later he walks by, now in the suit, FaceTiming his daughter.

Soon he’s sitting beneath a smock as Margaret Curran applies his make-up. “This is one of my least favourite things,” Tubridy says. “I don’t like being in the chair too long.”

He’s silent for a moment. He’s anticipating the gear shifts. “You know Worzel Gummidge?” he says, referring to the fictional scarecrow in the old children’s TV series. “You know the row of heads in his shed? He had to put on his ‘serious’ head and his ‘fun’ head and his ‘country music’ head and his ‘Toy Show’ head. That’s what it’s like.”

In 48 hours Tubridy has likened himself to Mr Benn, Dr Who and, now, Worzel Gummidge.

He tells Curran about an old man he read about who advocated “living as short as possible . . . I just love that philosophy – enjoy life. Don’t overthink it.”

He pauses again. “I was watching Bridge of Spies, and Tom Hanks says to Mark Rylance, a suspected spy, ‘You’re in a lot of trouble. You should be really worried.’ And Rylance says, ‘Would that help?’ In my moments of sadness or upset, when I start worrying, I think, Is this helping?”

He calls his daughters most Friday evenings. “I get a streak of nervousness or vulnerability, and when I talk to them the see-saw balances. Once I know they’re okay and they’re happy, and having a good time, it’s okay.”

Are they interested in his work? “No interest . . . All they know is, ‘That’s my dad.’ They’re not showbiz kids. You’ll never see pictures of them. You’ll barely know their names. I’m even reluctant now talking about them.” He pauses. “But they are part of my story. The biggest part.”

Down in the studio John Spillane is singing The Dance of the Cherry Trees with a choir from University College Cork. McMahon has changed into a good suit. Masterson is sitting in the audience, in a quilted jacket, jeans and pink socks.

“Does Larry suit up?” I ask.

“That is Larry suited up,” says McMahon.

Masterson is loving the music. This is his favourite song. “We’ll get him to play at your funeral,” says Dermot McEvoy, the music executive. “But what happens if you die when the cherry blossoms aren’t in bloom?”

Masterson says he’s happy to be frozen until then. “It’s all showbiz, baby.”

McMahon shows me a photograph of a curmudgeonly-looking Masterson. “I gave him a version in a black frame for on top of the coffin.”

“I wish they’d stop planning my funeral,” says Masterson.

Spillane’s rehearsal is over. The band plays Prince songs. Tubridy has photographs taken with the choir. He films the show promos.

Raisa Carolan and Anna Gabriel, the two girls who came to loving Irish families from Chernobyl in the 1990s, have never been on television, so Katherine Cahill brings them to meet Tubridy. Gabriel has trouble with the steps, so Tubridy helps her down. Carolan tells him that her dad is in hospital. Tubridy rings her dad.

At 8pm the audience file into a wine reception next door. They’re picked by lottery, and no amount of pleading letters can change that. Pat and Marie Byrne and their son Daniel, who got them tickets as a surprise, watch the show every week. “It’s a tradition,” says Daniel.

“And Gay Byrne is my uncle,” says Pat. Gay Byrne is not his uncle. Pat is a wag.

Selfies are taken. “I’ve probably been in the background of more selfies than anyone in the country,” says Lainey O’Brien, the show’s audience researcher.

At 9.05pm Tubridy is in seclusion, listening to music, getting his head around the running order. In an eerily silent studio McMahon swings his arms. “This is the bit I hate,” he says. Masterson tells a dubious story. “Off the record, Larry!” warns McMahon.

The audience take their seats. Jim Sheridan, the band leader, strolls out, a picture of besuited relaxation, “ready to see the whites of their eyes”. Sheridan is the warm-up act. He gets everyone going with musically punctuated quips and prizes. The band plays a Monkees song, and Sheridan gets everyone holding hands – “Hold his hand!” he orders a male guest. “It’s the 21st century!” – then “forces” an audience member to sing. The man sings like “Daniel O’Donnell meets Tom Jones”.

Tubridy comes out to huge applause.

Tubridy jokes with the guests and explains what’s about to happen, then says, “In less than a minute we go to the country.”

He disappears. The theme plays, and he emerges as though for the first time.

I watch from the wings, where cameras are twirling. Most of the monitors are showing the Late Late, although one is showing a football match, and a crew member is glued to it. The Chernobyl item exceeds its allotted time, and I’m nearly bowled over by line-dancing cowgirls and three men wheeling a piano.

“We’re six minutes over already,” says Masterson. He gives Tubridy a pep talk. “It’s akin to a boxing fight sometimes,” Tubridy says. “The ad break is like the bell going ding ding, and the lads are down with the towel and water.”

McMahon watches from the control room at the back of the studio; Masterson prefers to watch a television in a room to the side of stage. (It’s currently filled with cowgirls, so he’s temporarily homeless.)

 

‘I took half a Xanax at half past three’

Researchers shepherd guests around and watch from the sidelines. Jim Sheridan says he regularly looks at Twitter midshow. “Remember the lamb carousel a few weeks ago? The band were crying laughing . . . Lamb of God!”

I join McMahon in the box. “We’re seven and a half minutes over,” he says. He’s in his waistcoat, his jacket off, staring at a bank of screens. Alan Byrne instructs camerafolk by microphone. The scheduler has given McMahon an extra three minutes. He’s chewing something with nervous energy. It could be a sweet, but I suspect it’s the inside of his mouth.

(At this stage, for the record, I have gone native. I like the Late Late Show team. I’m impressed by their easy camaraderie in the face of a stressful production. I find myself willing each item to do well. I suspect it’s temporary. For a biting critique of the show you’ll need to come back to me in six months.)

Downstairs, Spillane’s choir is queuing at the side of the stage, and Mike Murphy and Catriona Crowe are having their microphones removed.

“Have you been on the show yourself?” Murphy asks, as though that’s something anyone might choose to do of a Friday.

“I found it scary, to be honest,” says Crowe. “It’s both smaller and bigger than it seems . . . At home it looks like a gigantic studio – and it isn’t, but when you get in there’s all these people.”

Spillane thanks every choir member as they pass (“Thanks, lads”, “Safe home”). “That was a mad buzz,” he says. “I did a gig in Killorglin last night, and afterwards I couldn’t sleep a wink . . . I took half a Xanax at half past three.”

He’s done the show before. “Things have changed around here. There’s a lovely reception here now, from the receptionist to Tubridy.” He looks around conspiratorially. “I think they’ve all been sent on a course.”

 

Good luck and good night

Onstage the panel is ripping into the nation’s politicians. Oliver Callan decides to mention “the elephant in the room”: the Moriarty tribunal, Denis O’Brien and media timidity. Tubridy tries to intervene for the sake of balance, but this doesn’t stop Callan getting a round of applause.

The programme ends, slightly over time. Harnaam Kaur thanks Tubridy, and he hugs her. McMahon drinks a Coke. He’s happy but regrets not allowing more time for the opening item. “My gut told me it would go long, but 22 minutes on Chernobyl didn’t look right on paper.”

(I later learn that this episode achieved a 43 per cent audience share and an average of 508,600 viewers.)

I ask Masterson if he was worried about Callan’s comments. Masterson says that he might have a glass of wine and watch it when he goes home, “but he didn’t cross the line.”

It seems to be a relatively early night (although it’s possible that they all sneaked out to the pub without me). The text messages will start tomorrow, as team members read the weekend papers.

“It’s the treadmill,” says Masterson. “When it’s done you’re on to the next one. I always say to Ryan on Friday night, ‘Cheers, baby: that’s why you’re paid the big bucks. Good luck. I’m out of here. Good night!’ ”

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