Broadcaster George Hook returned to radio on Saturday morning for the first time since being dropped last September from his weekday talk show on Newstalk for his controversial remarks on rape.
The inaugural edition of his new show for Newstalk, entitled Hook’s Saturday Sit-In, was less notable for what was said than for what was not said, as the presenter steered clear of the matter.
Instead, he played it safe, with underwhelming results.
Hook followed the same general format of his previous shows, High Noon and The Right Hook, hosting a familiar mix of interviews, opinion and lifestyle items.
On this showing, the presenter is not seeking to win over any new fans. If anything, he is at risk of losing those listeners who have enjoyed his rough-and-tumble broadcasting style.
Any notion that Hook might begin by addressing the controversy that got him dropped was quickly dispelled. Even if Hook was not interested in reaffirming contrition for his ill-judged remarks suggesting that a young woman may have shared some blame for being raped, listeners might have been curious to hear about the fallout for him and his family (his interview with Neil Prendeville on Cork station Red FM was far more revealing about the abuse suffered by his family, as well as suggesting he felt hard done by).
Instead, the host set out his stall, jauntily declaring his intention to wake up any sleepy listeners, which at 8am on Saturday is always going to be a fair share. From the beginning, Hook seemed unsure which tone to take. “It’s time to get out of bed,” he said, “but stay in bed”.
The day being what Hook called "Woman's Christmas", his first guests were "the two most powerful women known to man", communications consultant Theresa Lowe and Dr Lara Dungan.
The amount of nervous laughter testified to the awkwardness of the encounter. The point of the interview was unclear, beyond proving that Hook is able to talk to women, as the topics veer from rugby trivia, the efficacy of new year’s resolutions and the presenter’s most intimate health problems, always one of his favourite subjects.
Inauspicious as this start was, it was one of the show’s more entertaining segments, as Hook at least showed his more irreverent side, as he repeatedly chided his guests as liberals (he also took the first of several thinly veiled sideswipes at the Irish Times).
There then followed a long item on Lyme disease, with Dr John Lambert of the Mater hospital. It was a thorough discussion on the possibility of catching the disease in Ireland, an issue Hook clearly was interested in, though the arid tone was more likely to put listeners back to sleep than wake them up.
In a similar vein, the host introduced two regular slots, travel advice with Barry Kenny and song history with Bill Hughes. Both items mixed factual content, on Hong Kong holidays and Richard Harris's classic hit McArthur Park, with amiable anecdotes from Hook, but equally were pleasantly forgettable.
But any idea that Hook was downplaying his provocative political side evaporated during his interview with pro-Brexit academic Gwythian Prins - which while full of the usual references to snooty "remoaners" at least benefited from some gentle cut-and-thrust between host and guest – and another new slot, featuring conservative American radio presenter Michael Graham.
A regular panelist on Hook’s old show, Graham has been given his own monologue on this new one, though maybe harangue is the more apposite term. As is his wont, Graham gleefully attacked the supposed shibboleths of the liberal left, from Barack Obama to the EU, while talking up the achievements of Donald Trump.
Graham had some salient points to make about Iran and the US economy, but even the most sympathetic listener surely must have tired of his style, which is to shout out statistics while hurling schoolyard insults at that old chestnut, the liberal media.
While Graham will have roused listeners from their slumber, it had all the charm and finesse of a drill sergeant screaming at fresh recruits.
That the most memorable section came from Graham rather than Hook was telling, however. Much of the problem was down to the fact that the show seems to be entirely recorded: Certainly there was none of the real-time social media feedback that was such a feature on his previous shows.
With no texts or tweets to ping off, whether in approval or disfavour, Hook sounded oddly staid.
Of course, this also meant that there was less seat-of-the-pants editorialising, of the kind that landed him in hot water to begin with. Whether or not this was the point, it robbed the show of much of the daffy unpredictability that has long been Hook’s trademark as a broadcaster.
Instead, he hosted a show full of generic light conversations and predictable baiting of liberal shibboleths, with about as much bite as a set of dentures left in a glass. Hook may be back, but fan and foe alike may feel slightly deflated by a show that was less sit-in than nod-off.