“Saturday Night With Miriam” – RTE

Genuinely ground-breaking television programmes are few and far between, but Saturday Night With Miriam which has just concluded its summer run was that rare thing; an important RTE production. What they’ve done is, to take each and every one of the worn and stale traits from those tired and dreary early 1980s talk shows, put them all together in the one show, and present it as if it were a real programme. It’s a brilliant way of fearlessly deconstructing and minutely examining contemporary Irish broadcasting, and is a searing indictment of the very channel which, to its credit, has had the courage to air it.

It’s as if Graham Norton and Chris Evans, or for that matter Conan and Letterman had never happened. But unlike say, Mrs Merton, Alan Partridge, or even The Day Today, O’Callaghan and her production team play the whole thing with a completely straight face. You get a seemingly endless stream of guests nobody has heard of, who produce a torrent of interminable and unfunny anecdotes, in the vain hope of manufacturing their own 15 minutes, and there’s not a raised eyebrow or exclamation mark in sight! So instead of an admittedly hilarious parody, what you get is an invaluable and insightful critique of the state of Irish television as it moves into the 21st century.

Imagine if something like this were a real programme, the show asks. Is this the sort of thing a public broadcaster ought to be offering up as the service it provides? Isn’t the whole point about public sector broadcasting, that it strive to find a balance between reflecting the country as it is, and exploring the boundaries of the medium it uses to do so in? If all you think about are the viewing figures, this is the sort of thing you’re going to end up with.

It’s commendably brave of RTE to allow this sort of criticism to exist on its schedule, but it’s vital that they do so, and that they heed the show’s dire warnings. And it’s admirably principled of O’Callaghan to feign sacrificing her credibility in this way, by so courageously opening up the debate about what exactly RTE is for. The guise she adopts here is the brilliantly drawn comic character she’s been using for her radio show, Miriam Meets. There she plays a wonderfully faux-mumsy interviewer so incontinent with empathy and emotion, that your only reaction is to reach for the nearest kitten, tear it limb from limb and gorge on its entrails.

Generously, she plays down the comic elements here so she can concentrate of presenting her searing, not to say selfless critique of public sector broadcasting, and the urgent need for us all to start thinking seriously about the kinds of programmes that RTE should be making. Because if we are not careful, as she so brilliantly suggests, this is the sort of thing we could very well end up with.



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