Craig Doyle; Sean Scully; Joanna Lumley

by John Boland

Where would we be without RTE to cater for our every need and to serve our deepest longings? Recognising, for instance, that one weekend chat show wouldn’t be sufficient to slake our thirst for interviews with C-list celebs, our national broadcaster decided last January to follow up Friday night’s Late Late Show with a Saturday night supplement hosted by Brendan O’Connor.

But when that mesmerising series drew to its end a couple of weeks back,  it was impossible not to wonder how our Montrose benefactors would combat the national withdrawal symptoms that were bound to ensue. However, that presented no problem for these visionaries, who immediately conjured up Tonight with Craig Doyle (RTE1) to satisfy our celebrity cravings.

“I’m absolutely delighted to be here,” Craig assured us at the outset of last Saturday night’s opening show and I didn’t doubt him for a second. After all, he’s been less conspicuous of late on the BBC than the Lesser Spotted Egret on Dollymount Strand, while RTE, after indulging him with his own series a few seasons ago, appeared to have forgotten all about him.

Hence his delight at hosting this show, a delight that extended to all of his glittering guests. “You look gorgeous!” he trilled when Latoyah Jackson seated herself on a silver sofa that seemed more suitable to a San Fernando porn shoot than to adoring chit chat in Dublin 4. “Why, thank you, so do you,” Latoyah simpered back.

Mindful of her brother’s demise, Craig gravely suggested that it must have been a “tough year” for her. She agreed that such was so. So what were the highlights of Michael’s career? “Everything,” Latoyah said, adding that her sibling was “such a gift from God.” Craig nodded enthusiastically.

However, Michael’s untimely death was “no accident,” Latoyah said darkly. Craig could hardly contain his excitement. “Are you saying he was murdered?” he gasped. “Yes, that’s what I’m saying,” Latoyah replied, though as she wasn’t prepared to divulge the names of those who had murdered him or even the precise reasons for this foul deed, Craig changed the subject and asked her about her relationship with Michael’s children.

“Do you spoil them all?” he enquired. She said she didn’t. “I bet you do,” he countered. She repeated that she didn’t. “I bet you do,” Craig said again. “I’d say you’re a great auntie,” he then said. She modestly demurred. “Oh, I’d say you are,” he insisted.

After the ad break we were to meet “the stunning Victoria Smurfit,” but before that Craig could hardly contain his excitement at the prospect of interviewing “one of Ireland’s great national treasures.” This  interview would constitute “my very own guilty pleasure” because the man he was about to introduce was “suave, sophisticated and just so showbiz, but most importantly he’s a man that I…” and here Craig got completely lost for words before bursting out with “well, I love him.”

The object of Craig’s adoration turned out to be, not George Clooney or even Colin Farrell, but Louis Walsh – or, as I like to call him, Louis Bloody Walsh because he seems to be on every bloody TV show in the universe, as inescapable as death or taxes or an April shower, and assuring anyone who’ll listen that he’s just an ordinary guy who tells it like it is and who was lucky enough to get a break into showbiz, while at the same time trying to persuade everyone that Boyzone, Westlife, Simon Cowell and himself are worthy recipients of our swooning admiration.

Craig was clearly in seventh heaven, though the spectacle of his toadying – and of Louis’s smug acceptance of it – made me feel as if I was inhabiting that special hell reserved for hapless viewers who tune into RTE on Saturday nights.

Then, of course, there are Sunday nights – specifically that time slot recently vacated by the All-Ireland Talent Show. How to fill that? Quite simple, really – just put on another talent show. And thus we have Fame: The Musical (RTE1), in which, over ten weeks, twelve contestants will vie to become the male and female star of a stage show to be presented in the Grand Canal Theatre next August.

Derek Mooney, who has about as much charisma as Craig Doyle, is the host here, but as usual with talent shows the real stars of the enterprise are not the presenters or even the contestants but the judges. And what bodes well for this series is that the judges in question – theatrical producer Robert C Kelly, actor Simon Delaney and West End singer Jacinta Whyte – seem more interested in doing the job allotted to them  than in imitating the preening antics of a Simon Cowell or Louis Walsh or emulating the ridiculous grandstanding of Blathnaid ni Chofaigh and mates on the All-Ireland Talent Show.

Even their putdowns seem seriously intended rather than attempts to grab the limelight, and more elegant, too, as when Kelly told a girl who had mangled a song “I have to congratulate you because you did hit quite a few notes that were correct. Unfortunately, none of them were in the right order, but it’s at least commendable that some of them were there.” The girl went away looking more bemused than offended.

When New York photographer Robert Mapplethorpe met Irish artist Sean Scully in the late 1980s he thought him “really scary”, and Scully, who’s now 64, still looks pretty scary, like the enforcer for an East End gang. Or, indeed, a boxer, which was appropriate for Arts Lives: The Bloody Canvas (RTE1), in which the artist pursued his lifelong obsession with the noblest art and its relationship to what he does himself.

Many of the comparisons between warrior and artist that were made in Alan Gilsenan’s film struck me as somewhat strained, but there was no denying the intensity of Scully’s preoccupation with both callings and there was much that was very arresting here, not least a fervent conversation with Barry McGuigan and an extraordinary scene in which Dublin-born trainer Brendan Ingle danced and parried his way around a Sheffield gym to the strains of ‘Sing a Rainbow.’

In the first episode of Joanna Lumley’s Nile (UTV), the presenter charmed everyone, not least the viewer, with her elegance, wit and sense of fun. “What is your name?” she asked street vendors and ship captains and did so with the courtesy and warmth of someone who really wanted to know. It made for a journey that was evocative, informative and utterly beguiling. Forget Craig Doyle’s effusions about Louis Walsh – Lumley really is a national treasure.

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