Good, not great, first nights kick off season

 

It wasn't a great night in front of the box, it was a good night in front of the box, as one of the hosts might have said last night. The battle for Friday night chat commenced with Eamon Dunphy taking on Pat Kenny for the title of King of Talk TV.

The hosts! The guests! The sets! The suits! Despite a Summer filled with hype about the impending clash, there was something anti-climactic about sitting down to watch both shows.

In the TV3 studios Dunphy was up first, starting at 9 p.m. with gritty graphics and a theme tune laden with irony: I Fought The Law (And The Law Won).

Looking relaxed in a white shirt, no tie and black suit, he began by referring to the ongoing war of words between him and the original Irish chat-show king, Gay Byrne.

All is forgiven Gaybo, he said, making a sign of the cross and smiling broadly. Dunphy's smile, we discovered, looks great on prime-time TV.

Unfortunately, the first plug in a night full of plugs came just six minutes into the show when he held up the CDs of his first musical guests, Mundy and Joe Dolan. Later, the new novel by an author was displayed with embarrassing prominence on the David Letterman-style desk. Even his mug said 'The Dunphy Show'.

Over on the southside, Kenny got off to a slightly more punchy start on RTE at 9.30pm with a little help from the comedy troupe Apres Match.

In an hilarious sketch, they pilloried the Late Late presenter for what critics often complain is his wooden performance and suggested he might jazz up the night by going on stage with his fly down.

Unfortunately, Kenny immediately ruined the gag when he came on-stage recounting a distinctly non-hilarious anecdote about a time he really did go on air with his zip down. Oooer.

Kenny's revamped Late Late Show hadn't changed much, if you didn't count the brand new set in the brave new blue and orange colour scheme. Late Late regulars Westlife came on and sang their new song, Hey Whatever, summing up exactly how some people think of their contribution to Irish music.

At least Kenny made newly- married Nicky Byrne distinctly uncomfortable as he interrogated the pop star about his French wedding.

Over at the Helix, on the grounds of DCU, Eamon Dunphy's presenting got more relaxed as the night wore on, although he laughed a little too hard at guest Páidí Ó Sé in an effort to look like he was having a ball.

The young 'n' trendy audience appeared to have been culled from the surrounding lecture theatres, while the sets screamed Manhattan, with a Dublin skyline in the place the skyscrapers of New York.

But it was the guests that were the real barometer of success. On this score at least it appeared Kenny had the edge over his opponent, especially with his light grilling of celebrity chef Conrad Gallagher about his incarceration and the mix-up over those paintings.

Dunphy promised us sex, politics and comedy and scored with Sex and the City creator Candace Bushnell as a guest.

Still her appearance showed up the difficulties both hosts will face in ensuring there are enough guests to go around in such a reduced pool of potential interviewees. Bushnell has appeared on the Late Late twice already.

Both hosts were generous. Dunphy offering a prize of a trip to New York, Kenny with his car. But what they really offered, for the first time in Irish TV history was choice on Friday night.

As the song says, it all started on The Late Late Show - but only time will tell where it will all end.