Thursday, January 19, 2017

Things That Get Bumped in the Night

Years ago Jimmy Kimmel began a running gag on his talk show about Matt Damon. It started when Kimmel was wrapping up what he felt had been a very lame show (“I think my guests were a ventriloquist and a guy in a monkey suit”) and at the last minute, in an inspired fit of show business gallows humor, he threw out the line, “My apologies to Matt Damon; we ran out of time.” Thereafter he frequently repeated the line, much to occasional viewer Damon’s confusion—so much so that the actor eventually cornered Kimmel to get the explanation.

I think TV chat shows nowadays are generally too carefully scripted and produced for this to happen much any more, but I remember many occasions of getting all the way to the end of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and hearing him apologize to some hapless unseen comedian or singer about running out of time. I imagine it was the dread of any rising newcomer who finally got his or her big shot at the coveted late night television audience.

That very thing happened last Friday night to my wife’s cousin once removed. An accomplished musician and performer, she was scheduled to play her harp on RTÉ’s Late Late Show in order to promote Dublin’s upcoming TradFest festival. She was even featured in televised teasers earlier in the evening. All of us friends and family were huddled around the telly in anticipation—except for certain ones, including her parents and her nearly-90-year-old grandmother, who were actually in the front rows of the studio audience. We waited and waited for her appearance. We waited through a moving tribute to Ireland’s seaborne rescue services, a chat with a couple of veteran actors and an interminable on-stage performance of a botox procedure. Then, after literally hours, host Ryan Tubridy said the dreaded words. He apologized to Lisa and said they would have her back on a future telecast. Sigh.

Strangely, I myself could emphathize quite sincerely with her. As it happens, I was bounced from a potential spot on the airwaves just a few days before Christmas. The saga began a few weeks earlier when the wife alerted me to the fact that Joe Duffy was soliciting self-published books. If you do not listen to Irish radio and do not know who Joe Duffy is, well, it is kind of hard to explain. Basically, he is a sympathetic ear in the afternoon. While any current event, whether international or local, can be up for call-in discussion, most of his shows seem to involve listeners ringing in with stories about personal problems, travails and frustrations. Whether it is a problem with an incalcitrant bank or government red tape, Joe—a plainspoken presenter with a classic Dublin accent—can reliably be heard to utter audible sounds of sympathy and concern. Usually on Fridays the show is a forum for a panel of codgers to bring out their corny jokes.

On the day of the winter solstice, however, the topic was to be self-published books. The idea was to chat with some of the authors, and the collected books would be donated. I dropped my two in an envelope, sent them off to RTÉ and then forgot all about it—all the way up until a couple of hours before the program was to air. The phone rang, and it was Richie, a nice researcher from Joe’s show, wanting to do a pre-interview with me. He had lots of questions, mainly about Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, and I was happy to answer all of them. It was gratifying that Richie had spent enough time with the books to be familiar with them. He took my mobile phone number and asked if I would be available if they rang me during the show. Of course, I was. When the show began at 1:45 we listened intently, keeping an ear out all the time for a phone call, knowing the radio would have to be shut off before answering it. We continued listening until the program ended at three o’clock. It turned out that they had more—way more—authors lined up than they had time for, which of course is the prudent thing to do.

The vast majority of authors interviewed had written memoirs. A lot of Richie’s questions had been about how much of Max & Carly had been based on my own experiences. I suppose it was natural for an inveterate people person like Joe Duffy to be most comfortable talking to authors about their own lives rather than their creative process. Also, in contrast to the books that got featured, neither of my books has very much to do with Ireland. One had a single secondary Irish character, and the other had characters with Irish names but were not Irish. In any event, it provided a few hours of excitement in the house to break the usual daytime routine.

As it happens, that was not the first time I had been approached about going on the air only to be cut when it came down to the wire. A few years ago a producer for an RTÉ afternoon TV show got in contact with me. It was a few days before the annual Academy Awards telecast. He had spotted my movie blog and wondered if I would be interested in participating in a panel discussion the day after the Oscars. I may not have sounded overly enthusiastic since it would have meant a three-hour drive to Dublin after little or no sleep since the Oscar telecast typically ends around six in the morning in this time zone. Besides, I had the distinct impression that I was being lined up as a contingency in case the person they really wanted could not make it. In any event, I was subsequently informed that I need not trouble myself.

I guess when it comes to Ireland’s state broadcaster, I am just its answer to Matt Damon.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

You Might Also Like...

I am fascinated by book-selling web sites that use an algorithm to suggest books that may also be of interest to you, presumably based on titles you have previously searched for or links that you have clicked on.

So it was particularly exciting for me when I was able to start searching for my very own first published book and see what sorts of books got suggested for people who had searched for it. Here is a typical result.

I have to say that at least the software deduced the historical reference fairly logically.

More interesting was the result from an Australian web site.

Stephen King? Art Spiegelman? Kate Grenville? Now that’s one eclectic reading list. At least this time the algorithm was smart enough to also suggest my other book as well.