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When things fall to pieces

Neither party wants to be there but both parties realise that they have obligations to the audience who -- ironically -- are enjoying every moment of the excruciatingly painful exchange.

Often the celebrity is upset that they have been asked a question that they don't want to answer. The host, meanwhile, is utterly exasperated as every question they pose afterwards is met with stony-faced silence.

Every TV host has endured a tricky guest. Hark back to last year's embarrassing exchange between Pat Kenny and eccentric singer Pete Doherty.

When Kenny repeatedly asked him about his much-publicised drug habit and relationship with model Kate Moss, Doherty eventually railed: "I don't know if you could name a song that I've written," to which Kenny stuttered, "No, possibly not."

"I don't understand why this has to be the be all and end all of how you look at someone and judge someone," Doherty continued, referring to his drug problem.

"The last 12 questions you've asked me have been about drugs," he added, before pulling his hat over his eyes.

Michael Parkinson had a similar tension-riven exchange with actress Meg Ryan. He later described it as his "most difficult TV moment" while Ryan branded Parkinson "a nut".

The interview didn't get off to a good start when Parkie began by asking the cerebral Ryan: "Do you find fashion empowering?"

Ryan was appearing on the show to discuss her role in the Jane Campion-directed film In The Cut, which debunked the myth of happily-ever-after romance, a theme which Parkinson, clearly a born romantic, disagreed with vehemently.

"That's a bleak view of life, isn't it?" asked Parkinson.

"I think it's beautiful," countered Ryan, "the search for truth is a beautiful thing."

"That's not a search for truth," slammed the host. "That's a search for cynicism and disenchantment."

The film's sex scenes were the next topic of discussion. Parkinson considered them "graphic". Ryan argued that they were "poetic".

Realising that his black was Ryan's white, Parkinson eventually said in exasperation: "What would you do now if you were me?" to which Ryan replied: "Why not wrap it up?"

Ryan later compared Parkinson's interview style to a "disapproving Dad". "I realised it's not like an American talk show where it's seven minutes and then there's a commercial break," she explained.

"I had to do 20 minutes straight with this guy, and I could either walk off -- which wouldn't be good -- or try to disagree with him very respectfully."

It's obvious that the pair's opposing views led to what is now one of the most famous communication breakdowns in live TV history. The reasons for other awkward interviews are less clear-cut.

The jury is still out on whether actor Joaquin Phoenix's appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman to promote his film Two Lovers was an elaborate hoax or a bona fide display of catatonia.

The interview augured ill when Letterman remarked on the Galilean beard that Phoenix was newly sporting.

"You've got a nice beard going. How is that, the beard?"

"In what way?" Phoenix replied.

"Is it comfortable? Is it itchy? Are you pleased with it?" Letterman negotiated.

"I'm OK with it, but now you're making me feel weird about it. . . is there something wrong?" Phoenix answered tartly.

When Letterman realised he'd have a better chance drawing blood from a stone, he opted for a different tack: flattery.

"You were terrific in [the film], and I really enjoyed your work."

"Thank you," Phoenix deadpanned.

Finally, Letterman tried comedy. "Well can you tell us about your days with the unabomber." This question didn't even elicit a reply.

When the awkward 10 minutes came to an end, the unflappable Letterman delivered one of his best improvised closers: "I'm sorry you couldn't be here tonight."

At least Letterman was able to draw out a few sentences. When illusionist David Blaine was a guest on GMTV with Eamonn Holmes, he barely uttered a single word. The bizarre exchange made audiences wonder if he was trying to hypnotise Holmes with his wall-eyed stare.

"You're famous in this country for being in a car ad doing tricks," began Holmes.

"Yes," whispered Blaine.

"Are you an illusionist? Are you a trickster? Are you a stuntman? What are you? How would you describe yourself?"

"I'm just a showman."

An increasingly disturbed Holmes then asked: "Is this part of the show, this mean and moody persona and the stare and the eyes?"

Again, Blaine just stared blankly before lifting up his hand and waving.

Holmes later referred to it as one of his most embarrassing on-air moments. "David Blaine was one of those all-time telly bloopers where you didn't know if he was jet-lagged, diabetic or had too much to drink," he remarked.

What makes these interviews so awkward is that both parties are clearly watching the clock, waiting for the slot to finally reach its end. Instead, they have to wait for the next commercial break. On live TV, there is no director to yell "cut".

Unless you're the notoriously difficult Russell Crowe, who showed scant regard for interview protocol at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. The actor saw red when journalist Mark Lawson brought up what he considered to be his Irish accent in the film Robin Hood.

"The accent that you've given him, there are hints to me of Irish, but what . . . were you thinking in those terms?"

"You've got dead ears mate, you've seriously got dead ears, if you think that's an Irish accent."

"Hints of, I thought . . ."

"I'm a little dumbfounded you could possibly find any Irish in that character. That's kind of ridiculous anyway, but it's your show."

"So you're . . . well, I am just asking . . . so you're going for northern English?"

"No, I was going for an Italian, yeah, missed it? F*** me!"

Crowe then refused to answer a question about whether he had not wanted to deliver some of his most famous lines in Gladiator before saying, "I don't get the Irish thing by the way. I don't get it at all."

And at that he cut off the interview and walked out, which is what every celebrity in the same situation probably wants to do from the word go.