New Improved Pat
Frontline’s bloodsport is the ideal formula for steady Kenny; and he for it
“It is important to acknowledge that Kenny is a master of eliciting the core information “
“We’ve been rescuing the banks for a year. But are they grateful?” Dee dee dee. Opening credits. The set looks like the Krypton Factor and the theme music by Boxpop is Kraftwerk meets Prime Time. But it’s not Prime Time. And it’s not Questions and Answers. And it’s not the Late Late Show, though it could be the Late Late Show for that little serious bit in the middle when Ant and Dec have gone back to the Green Room. And here is our host. No-nonsense Pat Kenny looks like he has just got off a horse or perhaps is on unseen wheels, and delves straight into the audience – not like a current-affairs presenter, not like John stay-in-one-place Bowman but like Late Late Pat in a business suit and sober tie. And now he’s striding across the set. Soon the microphone’s in a wound-up bank victim’s face and solicitous Pat is asking competent and relaxed, emotion-free questions. Where Tubridy springs, bounds, hops into the audience. Kenny looms and hovers, finds a footing, and probes. The mic judders and bobs on the end of his wrist, as Pat Moondances a little distractingly. He gets back to his desk and fiddles with his pen while being autocued. On one of the programmes he even exited stage left at the end of the programme, in inept full view of the camera. The body’s a bit jerky but crucially the brain is good.
Kenny has now done five Frontlines and the formula is clear. The show deliberately plays to his considerable strengths. It’s an intoxicating mix of emotion and dry analysis with Kenny the crucial conductor, perched awkwardly below the front row. Although Kenny is uncomfortable with the emotional side this is more than counterbalanced by his professionalism and the incandescent rage that the formula systematically evokes from the audience. He should (and I suspect will) have Colm McCarthy on frequently. He works so well with the foaming audience. His public persona is without emotion and this provides morsels of delight when Kenny sets him up to be even more arid than he is himself. McCarthy actually said “Don’t be emotional” to an emotional questioner and then having looked at him querulously for many seconds on screen while he let the hysteria overtake him, McCarthy said, deadpan, “ok, be emotional”. McCarthy is sharp. When a questioner asked how long we could stave off NAMA if we made property developers pay the full price, McCarthy’s face lengthened and he muttered, “about an hour and a half – most of them are bust”. McCarthy is beguiling but the quality of the panellists is generally outstanding: Eamon Dunphy, Fintan O’Toole, Shane Ross. “Sometimes we get glimpses of the humourless self-obsessed, pushy Pat, as when it is suggested he may earn millions he reacts at gratuitous privilege-abusing length:”it’s a hell of a lot more than I’ll make this week , this month, this year”. He seems also to be uncontrollably rightist, at least at the margins. It is evident he is no fan of the (bloated?) public sector, he is unimpressed by some of the (eccentric?) long-termist policies of the Greens. In the programme on the public sector he produced a Pie Chart showing how government spends money (health, education and social welfare mostly). Pat sets up Colm to repeat that we’re spending 400 million Euro weekly more than we earn. Pat is an intelligent man and he is driven to frustration with some of these people: “What’s that [the pie chart) telling you?” he demands, before he finally notes definitively – as a man of the world – that there’ll be cuts “one way or t’other”. It’s so obvious that he need not go beyond the colloquial, you see. “t’other”. On the other hand in the entire programme – indeed in the whole series so far – Kenny never said anything that could possibly irritate the private sector.
It is important to acknowledge that Kenny is a master of eliciting the core information: the reason banks can say 80% of applications are improved is because they don’t let dubious applications get into the system in the first place; the reason the Greens will get 500 new teachers is because demographics will require it anyway; someone should take a test-case against banks that lent to unsuitable people. There is no escaping roving Pat. There is nothing in it for the culpable bureaucrat when Pat announces, “let’s hear from Joe” and shimmies up the aisle. There is no escape, least of all from the audience anger that Kenny foments. Any weakness attracts low-hovering vultures. God Peter McLoone is boring: point after point unmade. Before he could answer Pat’s question as to whether his moral responsibility as a trades union leader had been diminished by his chairing Fás during its extravagant period , the herd intervened to declare that yes it was. McLoone looked devastated.
Most dramatic was the public versus private sector debate where internecine and spitting contempt between people who seemed indistinguishable, at least in their selfishness, brought about a Duffyesque vista that was bad-natured, selfish and tribal. One speaker said it was bloodsport. Emma O’Brien from Inchicore – you win the prize for most emotional performance in your own advancement (public sector). One man from central casting in a pin stripe with a red fop said he’d taken a fifty per-cent cut in pay but the public sector were at his throat suggesting he was well-heeled and asking how much he was actually paid. He said it was below 100,000 but this did not impress them. Before he opened his mouth the next time, someone yelled “what does he know?”. There was no justice. Even Bertie Ahern got a viciously hard time in footage of past complacency over the housing boom – it almost makes up for Kenny’s fetish for property and the propertied down the broadcast years. Overall the programme does not really show humanity at its most attractive or altruistic. Pat asked the woman who spoke last on the Crumlin Hospital segment, whose child has been through untold traumas due to alleged poor administration in the hospital. “are you encouraged by anything you’ve heard tonight?” “No, Pat. I need one bed now”. Good television it may be. Constructive? Definitely not.