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Matt Cooper: 'It's amazing the amount of politicians who asked if they could co-present the Tonight Show'

The show has had a revolving door of co-presenters one night a week after Ivan Yates cut his days due to illness. But some weren’t happy with Michael Healy-Rae being one of them.

Image: Leah Farrell

THERE MIGHT HAVE been some complaints about Kerry TD Michael Healy-Rae guest presenting the Tonight Show in September, but it turns out plenty of politicians wanted to follow suit.

One of the show’s two presenters Matt Cooper made the revelation at the launch of Virgin Media Television’s new spring schedule this morning in Dublin. When asked about the plans for the show this year, he said that he’d continue doing four nights a week, with his co-presenter Ivan Yates doing three (due to back issues) – leaving the door open for another co-presenter one night a week.

Rather than go for a permanent stand-in, the Tonight Show has opted thus far for a revolving door of different presenters, including TheJournal.ie‘s news editor Sinéad O’Carroll.

The decision to choose a politician – particularly one as colourful as Michael Healy-Rae – as guest presenter one night didn’t go down well in some quarters. But it certainly attracted the attention of some in Leinster House. 

“For all the criticism it’s amazing the amount of politicians who asked if they could do it,” said Cork native Cooper when asked about the reaction to Healy-Rae stepping in.

Will more politicians be put in front of the autocue? “That is not my call, that is not my decision,” he said. “We haven’t done another politician since the time Michael Healy-Rae was on. It was one night, I know some people tried to say it was more than that but it was one night.”

He went on: “I think we’ll develop as we go along and see what other people are out there. But there are lots of people, your own Sinéad O’Carroll would be someone who would have been one of the more regular people that we would use, and there will be some people but it won’t be the same person every week.”

We’ve tried different people, some have worked very well others have worked not so well. There are new names who will be doing it over the next few weeks. So we’ll see. I don’t see that we will have a permanent guest replacement for Ivan, we’ll continue with just having different people coming in and hopefully that will give us what people want to see.

Finding their feet

0023 Virgin Media_90561997 (1) Source: Leah Farrell

The show has been on air for 15 months, and Cooper said that he and Yates are still establishing themselves. “It took a little while for us to get used to the way each other did it, and the production teams to how we would do it,” he said of their presenting styles. “You’re always refining and you’re always trying to improve what you’re doing.”

After a few weeks off air during the Christmas break, they are now back before in studio. “Last night, the first night back [we had] what we thought was really the type of programme we wanted to do. We had really good guests, really good conversation, intelligent conversation, provocative, a few rows between people, some good laughs,” said Cooper.

“I think there is going to be a thing if people are going to be watching politics at 11pm at night they have to be entertained, and there is an element of that. We’re not trying to be po-faced, we’re not taking ourselves too seriously, we’re taking the things that are serious seriously.”

‘As a TV presenter you’re not a player’

Regarding his 2018 Tonight Show highlights, he said that the final Eighth Amendment Referendum debate with Micheál Martin and Mary Lou McDonald up against Declan Ganley was “really good, really serious, authoritative”.

“So when we have to do that type of stuff we will, and we will treat all the elections and everything with the respect and seriousness that they deserve, but at the same time I think you know we are aware that we are there almost to put a smile on people’s face going to bed as well,” he said.

In fairness I think Vincent [Browne] did that as well. Vincent was in the entertainment business as well. Now we do it differently and the times are different, so I’d be reasonably confident that we can continue developing it over the next six months, or till the end of July in this run.

With a political talkshow on four nights a week, Cooper has undoubtedly seen similar topics come up time and time again on the Tonight Show (never mind that he also presents a talk show, the Last Word, on Today FM weekday evenings).

Does he tire of seeing the same topics come up again and again with no sign of them being solved by the powers that be?

“I’m a working journalist for, I hate to say it, 30 years since I left college, and I’m well aware how long it takes to actually get change in anything,” he told TheJournal.ie. “But there’s always new things and there’s always new angles, and I think there’s always things that I find very interesting to explore on behalf of the viewers or on radio on behalf of the listeners. You can’t let yourself become frustrated by it.

You also got to remember as a TV presenter you’re not a player, you’re not a participant, we’re there to examine and we’re there to probe but … we’re not the ones responsible for finding the solutions. Yeah, we try and tease out solutions from the people who have the responsibility, but ultimately it comes down to them to deliver or not.

The Tonight Show airs on Virgin Media One from Monday – Thursday at 11pm.

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