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HAVE THE LIBERAL commentariat taken over a space once occupied by the Catholic Church in Ireland, when it comes to deciding what’s acceptable and what’s not in Irish public discourse.
It’s arguable, reckons Brendan O’Connor.
These days, bishops rarely weigh in on what a guest or an audience member might say on the Late Late Show. But, says O’Connor, anyone who goes on live television these days is well aware that there’s an army of Twitter users out there ready to pounce if they should happen to utter an out-of-fashion or simply contrary comment.
“This is one of the things that is exciting and scary about doing live television,” said O’Connor, who returns at the helm of his Cutting Edge series this coming Wednesday.
Somebody says one thing wrong or if I say one thing wrong, the hordes will be out. And you can be a goner in two seconds these days for making one wrong comment – we all know that.
It’s a familiar talking point for the presenter and columnist. Speaking to George Hook in the wake of the broadcasting veteran’s on-air row with Collette Fitzpatrick, O’Connor talked about “Twitter thought police” and said he was concerned that the Irish media was being divided into opposing camps – with one side airing conservative ‘Catholic’ views and the other broadcasting liberal views and assuming that “all right minded people have certain opinions”.
Coverage of Bishop Eamonn Casey’s death got him thinking about the subject in recent days, he said, as he dropped into TheJournal.ie‘s newsroom for an interview this week.
“I was watching the stuff about Eamonn Casey last night, and you’re looking at a situation where here were these guys who put themselves out there as being incredibly virtuous, and moralised and lectured at everybody else … virtue signalling about themselves, almost.
They ran the country with an iron fist, and then suddenly this happened with Casey – and it was the first inkling that people got that actually these guys are only human.
“You think about it now, and we have a new orthodoxy in public discourse and it’s the virtuous liberals who are good people and calling out anybody else who says anything bad or wrong, or whatever.
“Look, I’m liberal myself. But at the same time they’re like the Church these days. And I think, if the interesting thing to do 20 years ago, 10 years ago was to kind-of call out the church on things, I think in a way the interesting thing now is to start calling out the liberals.
But I wonder how long before there’s a liberal Bishop Eamon Casey moment and suddenly the scales fall from their eyes – the liberals are only humans too, you know what I mean?
O’Connor’s heading into the third season of his Cutting Edge show this year. He said he had given up watching other chat shows in recent years – going back to when he first started presenting the Saturday Night Show (in a slot now occupied by Ray D’Arcy).
“When I started out in television I did a comedy panel show – Don’t Feed the Gondolas. And when I did that for some reason I never again watched a comedy panel show, maybe because you know too much?
“Then I did a TV talent show, as strange as that sounds now. I was a judge on a music show. And after that I never really watched X Factor or any of those things – because, again, maybe you just know too much.
While I was doing a chat show you don’t really watch other chat shows because … part of it was that if you did watch the Late Late Show on a Friday night you might get depressed because of the guests they had on. Since then I have no interest in watching chat shows – but I think that’s just because, you know, I’ve done that.
It’s no secret that O’Connor wasn’t happy with the decision to end The Saturday Night Show, which he presented for five years until 2015.
Two years on, is he happy that he no longer has work within such a tried-and-tested format, interviewing celebrities about their latest projects?
“Clearly is a huge market for it,” comes the response – Irish audiences will always be willing to tune into a live chat show.
With traditional chat shows, viewers are waiting for arguments, “they’re waiting for something funny to happen, they’re waiting for something awkward to happen, they’re waiting for a sense of jeopardy”.
“I always think it’s like a blood sport and Irish audiences are at the edge of their seat waiting for somebody to cock up.”
One benefit of his current project, he reckons, is that “we offer more opportunity for cock-up, for argument, for things to get awkward … and I suppose for things to sort of get intimate as well”.
In a new departure for the coming series, which features a mixture of well-known and less-well-known panelists sitting around a table debating the issues of the day, O’Connor and the producers are planning to gradually phase out male guests.
“Well if you take the traditional model of discussing anything in Ireland – for years it was two men in suits arguing with each other, and nobody moving on their position. And I think we know that that model of argument is dead.
“And what happens on Cutting Edge is hopefully that people actually have to listen to each other a bit, and people might move a bit in their convictions.
The thing that you start to realise is that actually women are probably better at that – you’ll have a much more interesting conversation with women there because there’s nuance…
If this is all sexist I’m very sorry, I can’t keep up.
Some shows in the coming season will feature an all-female panel, he explained.
We’ll see what the energy is like there, and then ultimately they’ll probably replace me with a woman, put it on in the afternoon and call it Loose Women.
Brendan O’Connor’s Cutting Edge returns on Wednesday 22 March on RTÉ One.