THE FACT OF THE MATTER
So, Ryan Tubridy is hanging up his proverbial boots after 14 years hosting The Late, Late Show and will present his final one on May 26, two days before his 50th birthday.
The Late Late Show is the world’s second-longest-running late-night talk show – after the Tonight Show in the US – first airing in 1962 with Gay Byrne at the helm.
Ryan Tubridy told Claire Byrne: “The truth of it is that in life sometimes you make a decision on the basis of your gut, and this was my gut. When ‘you know, you know’, and it feels right.” He wanted to spend time making documentaries, return to writing and maybe some time in academia. He was staying with his radio show.
Claire Byrne told her radio audience she was “shocked”, that everyone at RTE was shocked, at the announcement. I was not. For those who looked or listened there had been hints that Tubridy intended to step down. According to one source, it had been rumoured in RTÉ circles for several months that he might be considering stepping back.
Just four weeks ago, he refuted reports he would be stepping back from the show, opting to share his decision in a more considered fashion. Last year he told the Sunday Independent that approaching the milestone birthday was encouraging him to reflect upon his life, and consider how much longer he wanted to remain as host. “I don’t want to be older and burned out,” the broadcaster said.
Ryan Tubridy was RTÉ’s highest earner in 2020 and 2021. He earned €440,000 in 2021, a drop from his 2020 total of €466,250.
Now, the rumour machine kicks in on who will replace him. While Brendan O’Connor is mentioned, the smart money seems to be on a female presenter. Miriam O’Callaghan has ruled herself out. And Claire Byrne seems unlikely, given RTE have announced she is to host a new TV quiz show. Sarah McIerney is also being mentioned as are Jennifer Zamparelli and Angela Scanlon. For my money McInerney is the consummate interviewer in Montrose.
The issue, frankly, is not Tubridy’s going nor that the ‘time for a woman’ has come but rather that The Late, Late Show, although still hugely popular, is well past its sell-by date. We now live in a very different world than that of the early Sixties when Gay Byrne first came into our living rooms – and different from the subsequent two decades.
Byrne was a colossus of a conduit for moral and political change, paving the way for how we are now, having cast off the yokes of the Catholic Church, rigid misconceptions of morality and cruel and degrading lack of tolerance and understanding of the rights of women and children.
The seasoned broadcaster gave a voice to those who could not speak openly; the oppressed, the abused, the morally denied.
The past 40 years have seen an extensive change in Irish social thinking, values and what we, the citizens, expect. It is not an exaggeration to say Gay Byrne had a pivotal role in that change. From the formation of the State in 1922 much of the tasks connected with education, welfare and the running of the healthcare system was left in the hands of the Catholic Church and decisions made and policies upheld were influenced by that church’s doctrine.
It wasn’t until 1973 that the fifth amendment to the Irish Constitution was enacted which removed the ‘special position’ of the Catholic Church from the constitution. Since 1973 there have been some 15 amendments concerning social justice issues such as abortion, adoption, children, same-sex marriage, divorce, the death penalty and the voting rights of both immigrants and migrants.
There was a time, in my memory, when the Republic of Ireland was a homogeneous society and culture. The majority of people were white, English-speaking and Catholic. In the last 40 years, the cultural map of Ireland has changed dramatically. Ireland has become a multinational, cosmopolitan, globalised society.
Today’s Late, Late has less need for advocacy like in previous decades. And less need to be vociferous or argumentative, to shock, and certainly what takes place on our screens on Friday nights now never makes front page headlines as back in the day.
Director General Dee Forbes – who is also due to leave RTE – says TV bosses may consider changing the format of the show. The television world when Ryan Tubridy began 14 years ago is now completely different, with a lot more fragmented viewing, what with streaming and multi-media platforms.
If it is to continue in any guise, the Late, Late needs to be edgier. Controversial. Dangerous, even…