X Factor host Dermot O’Leary was the latest titan of chat to step onto the wobbly set of ITV’s The Nightly Show. And if he didn’t quite soar as high as the top of Simon Cowell’s trousers, things at least didn’t go the full Jedward. This was a decent turn from a likeable presenter negotiating a fundamentally broken format.
Not that the newbie got off to an especially auspicious start. A piano player was given distracting prominence on stage and seemed to think it his job to overshadow his boss with wonky jazz-pop arrangements (what, moreover, possessed him to hammer out the intro to I Don’t Like Mondays when the booming subtext of the episode was to insist that we all enjoy Mondays very much?).
Also a mistake was persisting with the American talk show blueprint – a format which, with each passing instalment of The Nightly Show, is becoming ever clearer ITV simply cannot pull off.
So where Jimmy Kimmel or Seth Meyers might have delivered devastatingly insightful critiques of ongoing news events, O’Leary’s opening monologue found him sharing a picture of a baby who looked like Ed Sheeran and an interview in which a footballer thanked his wife AND girlfriend. You know – the one you’ve already seen 400 times on Facebook.
Bargain basement production values didn’t help (the set looks as if it was cobbled together from spare plywood in 20 minutes) while it is clear that someone high-up has insisted on all-you-can-eat qualities of “wacky” banter.
Yet to his credit O’Leary pulled the 30 minute broadcast out of its tail-spin just as it seemed set to crash and burn. The contrast with flapping, rictus-grinning week one host David Walliams and his jumpy follow-up John Bishop would not have been more profound (though Nightly Show connoisseurs will tell you O’Leary’s vivacious predecessor Davina McCall remains the stand-out presenter).
On X Factor O’Leary skates by on glazed charm and that same unrelenting perkiness rode to his rescue here. No, comedian Catherine Tate wasn’t an especially riveting interviewee. However, O’Leary was so good at pretending to be dazzled by a canned anecdote about her television shopping addiction that it didn’t matter.
His super-human cheer proved even more crucial with the arrival of a garrulous Ruby Wax. She terrified Tate to the point that the English comedian started speaking in a broad New York accent just so Wax would leave her alone (for some reason it worked). Wax, meanwhile, flitted between uproarious and chilling as she recounted her interview 17 years previously with Donald Trump.
In a surreally prescient clip we saw her struggling to contain her mirth as the tangerine tycoon outlined his wish to one day run for president. Now Trump’s feverish pipe dreams have become reality and the world is forced to reckon with the consequences. At ITV, staff must be thinking the same about whoever commissioned The Nightly Show.
The aggressively amiable O’Leary came close to scraping through with dignity unbesmirched. But will turbo-charged effusiveness alone carry him through the remainder of his hosting duties? Don’t count on it. To paraphrase his X-Factor bestie Cowell, ITV has “invented a new form of torture”. How long before The Nightly Show is voted off and news anchor Tom Bradby is returned to his 10pm headliner slot?