Pat Kenny’s well-hyped return to TV makes for low-key Monday viewing

Television review: Pat Kenny in the Round, Claire Byrne Live and The Affair

Graham Norton signed off on his BBC chat show last week saying George Clooney is soon to be a guest. He's not just showing off (well, maybe a little), but even on Norton's show, where the host is every bit as entertaining as the guests, and more famous than some of them, it's all about who's on the sofa.

And, is if to underline this inescapable law of the chat show, in his acceptance speech at the Baftas (BBC, Sunday), where The Graham Norton Show picked up the award for Comedy & Comedy Entertainment Programme, Norton made a point of thanking the show's booker: the person who reels the guests in.

So there was huge anticipation for who would be Pat Kenny's first guest on his return to TV in Pat Kenny in the Round (UTV Ireland, Monday). The answer: Mickey Harte. This is great if you're interested in the GAA, particularly the Tyrone GAA, which Harte manages and led to three all-Ireland victories, the last in 2008. But as Harte walked out on to the gloomy set, you could sense the home audience shrinking.

Let's be clear: no one was expecting George Clooney. Filling a chat show on this small island is difficult; just look at how many times The Late Late Show raids the RTÉ staff canteen for guests. But a GAA manager in an hour-long general entertainment chat show is a niche proposition by any measure.


And, curiously, there's no sense of the live audience on Pat Kenny in the Round. The big thing about this well-hyped new show is that it is recorded in front of 150 people, and in the historic, atmospheric Round Room of Dublin's Mansion House. But there's no sense of that either, which seems a waste of effort. The audience is briefly glimpsed through the muted lighting, but Kenny and Harte, on their fireside chairs, could be in any square box studio.

The format for Pat Kenny in the Round is Piers Morgan's Life Stories, right down to the positioning of the two chairs opposite each other, with side tables in an otherwise bare set. And as with that hugely successful ITV show, Kenny has a single guest each week with archive footage of their achievements and talking-head clips with their friends and colleague saying nice things.

Mentioning Mauritius

Morgan’s show is gossipy and upbeat even when Cheryl Cole dabs away a tear or Susan Boyle talks about the high price of fame. But Kenny’s sincere, sensitive, well-researched talk with Harte has to be different in tone: as well as his on-pitch victories, the GAA man became known when his daughter Michaela was murdered while on honeymoon in Mauritius in 2011.

Harte proved to be an unruffled guest, used to being interviewed. He talked openly about the pain and how his faith helps him make sense of it.

“I still miss her so much and, in human terms, your heart is broken. But, I just feel there is a special connection – and I can only just believe that that’s the work of God and the work of Michaela.”

Harte talks movingly and at length about the impact of the deaths of two of his young players, Cormac McAnallen and Paul McGirr. It’s a low-key, Mondayish chat show. When it’s over, I’m not sure that, even after an hour, I know much about Harte that I didn’t know before.

Over on RTÉ, Claire Byrne has settled in to Kenny's old Frontline berth and the schedulers have brought forward Clare Byrne Live (RTÉ One, Monday) to an earlier time slot to go up against Pat Kenny. It's a wise decision: Byrne ended up being, by far, the ratings winner on the night.

Debating the same-sex marriage referendum, Minister Simon Coveney (Yes) and Senator Ronan Mullen (No) stood behind lecterns and Byrne stood between them, attempting and mostly succeeding in keeping order and balance. But, in what has become a predictable feature of this campaign, the debate quickly left the registry office and headed to the maternity ward to talk about babies, surrogacy and adoption.

Here the audience was very much in evidence; divided into two banks of seating, you quickly wished they were as silent as the Mansion House crowd. Instead, they performed their partisan duty, clapping after each point so that it not only became a predictable irritant, but stopped the flow of the ding-dong between a mostly calm Mullen and a sometimes flustered Coveney.

In a filmed insert, Geoffrey Shannon, chairman of the Adoption Authority of Ireland, was interviewed by Byrne about adoption practice and legislation. Shannon gave the facts, which paint a picture of a changing Ireland and a domestic adoption process unimaginable a couple of generations ago. The subject would be worth a programme of its own.

Of the 112 domestic adoptions last year, 69 were by the new partners of former lone parents. Traditional baby adoptions are so rare that just six infants were available last year. The birth mother helps choose the adoptive parents. Whether the vote is Yes or No, Shannon said, adoption practice won’t change. He remained cool and non-partisan, a relief from the hurly-burly of the studio.

As election fatigue began to set in, this was a lively hour of TV. Still, in terms of delivering information or swaying opinion, I’m not sure these polarised debates do much at all – other than create heat when there should be light .

Extramarital enjoyment

Anyone with Sky Atlantic will already be stuck into The Affair (Wednesday) the Golden Globe-winning series that takes the humdrum predictability of an affair between a slightly bored, middle-age married man (Dominic West) and a younger, troubled woman (Ruth Wilson) and lobs psychological intrigue into the mix. Set in the Hamptons in the US, the series is sunny and gorgeous and there’s the whiff of money in the salty air.

The story is told in flashback from the points of view of the main protagonists, who are unreliable, self-serving narrators. In episode one, the questioning voice and then the presence of a policeman in an interview room adds a tantalising mystery into the mix, making the already addictive drama a perfect guilty pleasure.