Bad news is good news for George
The George Lee Show (RTE1)
Recessions make people behave in surprising ways. During the Great Depression, cinema attendances in America rocketed as ordinary people flocked in their millions to the movie theatres to forget their woes for a few hours.
When times are tough, the natural human instinct is to take comfort from the frivolous things in life. Unless, that is, you're Irish and cursed with a gene, honed by hundreds of years of oppression, disappointment and thwarted hopes, that compels you to wallow in the misery of it all.
Viewing figures released at the weekend reveal that more people than ever are tuning in to news and current affairs programmes to keep abreast of the bad news.
Once upon a time (about 18 months ago) most of us would have preferred to play footsie rather than pay attention to the FTSE 100. Not anymore.
Nowadays we're riveted to what RTE's chief prophet of gloom, George Lee, has to tell us every evening. A recession is one ill wind that tends to blow nobody any good. George, however, is the exception.
While the country goes bust, RTE's Economics Editor finds himself in the midst of a personal career boom. After years of being the strangely featureless face of RTE's financial coverage, whose appearance on screen to tell us how brilliantly the country was doing usually coincided with a million kettles being put on, George has suddenly found himself at the epicentre of the action.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The hour was six o'clock and there was George, facing Bryan Dobson across Six-One's swanky new video wall -- which displayed the words "FISCAL CRISIS" in big, bold letters -- to discuss the impending mini-budget which will hike taxes and slash spending.
"They're the worst figures you could ever possibly imagine," said George, savouring the words like a fine wine. "We're way off course and it's getting worse by the day."
Interestingly, he'd chosen a cheery pink tie that was in sharp contrast to Dobbo's sombre purple one, which matched the colours of the downward-pointing arrows on the screen behind them.
There's a clue in that tie. While everyone else in the studio was genuinely shellshocked at the extent of the current economic meltdown (the Government is having to borrow €25,000 a minute to keep the country afloat), George actually appears to be loving every moment of it. I swear I saw a faint smile play around those thin lips and a little star sparkle in those unblinking button eyes.
He was positively glutinous with excitement as he reeled off the black statistics: "775 million ... 166 million ... 613 million ... 1.86 billion tax shortfall ... "
He seemed to be bursting to get it all out before a cleaner at the Department of Finance rang RTE to say there was nothing to worry about, because they'd just discovered a couple of billion euro in dusty tenners that had been unwittingly kicked under a desk and forgotten about during the 2007 office Christmas party.
The chickens have finally come home to roost and George Lee, the cock of the walk, feels right at home with them.
The George Lee Show * *