Ryan Tubridy: It's up to him to fight to make The Late Late Show something better

This time last year, after Ryan Tubridy had kicked off his Late Late Show career in fine style, one well-known broadcaster remarked to a colleague that the new presenter's real test would come after Christmas when there wasn't much happening in the sporting, publishing or movie worlds and decent guests were at a premium. As it turned out, Tubridy rose to that challenge. Over the whole series, he did very well by a noble old RTÉ institution; expectations were high last month that season two would be even better.

So why is the current series such an unmitigated failure? Why is it suddenly so difficult to drum up any enthusiasm for a night with The Late Late Show? Why does the index finger hover over the remote control with increasing impatience? And why does Tubridy – perhaps our sharpest broadcaster – so often look like he'd prefer to be trapped in a Chilean mine than be stuck in Studio Four on a Friday night?

There are a few answers to that question, the main one harking back to what that broadcaster said about decent guests – other than Tony Blair in the first show, Tim Robbins and a few others along the way, the collection of interviewees foisted upon Tubridy in this series has been as bad as it could be. And this, in the run-up to Christmas, at what should be a good time for big names.

The same old faces keep turning up, like TDs at a funeral. Invariably they are there to plug some new show or dvd they're doing for RTÉ. The result is that instead of being an independent-minded, energetic presenter bringing new life to a venerable show, Tubridy has become a highly-paid extension of RTÉ's pr department.

The show on 15 October, which prompted this column (and a few others) was a new low, although Friday's was a much better effort. Last week's highlights included a long, long, interview with a bunch of old boys who were taking off their clothes for a calendar (though not, happily, for the viewers), professional Navan man Hector Ó hEochagáin (for the umpteenth time), the reliably embarrassing Katherine Lynch (like Ó hEochagáin, flogging some RTÉ show she's involved in) and Chris DeBurgh, who has become so prickly over the years that he is almost unwatchable. Only the Sunday Tribune's Liam Hayes provided a powerful counterpoint to all the self-publicising frivolity.

As we are often told, The Late Late Show is the longest-running chat show in the world and over the years there were nights which were as bad as last Friday week. But rarely did they seem to symbolise a sense of decline of the kind which surrounds the show at the moment. It suddenly and dramatically appears to have lost its relevance. The series had always managed to be part of the national conversation, creating and reflecting the concerns and controversies of the day. You might have thought that Ireland in 2010 would provide opportunities for debate and discussion better than middle-aged businessmen in the nip and Katherine Lynch in her knickers. But apparently not. For the most part, the world outside celebrity and human interest is being ignored, as though anything that touched on current affairs, or the economy, or the national pessimism, would send people over the edge. This might be true if such topics were handled badly, or with a lack of imagination, but Tubridy is clearly more than capable than overseeing such debates.

Tubridy sometimes looks unhappy on the show, so I presume that he is. It's up to him, therefore, to fight to make it something better. He needs to become the boss, like Byrne was when he produced and presented the show back in the 1980s and '90s and decided what would and wouldn't work. He needs to have far more influence over the guest list than currently seems the case, so that the next time he is told that Katherine Lynch is supposed to be on the show, he can say: "Over my dead body, but here are a few intelligent ideas I prepared earlier".

Friday's show was an example of Tubridy at his best and the show at its most enjoyable. There's clearly life in the old dog yet, as long as it is looked after well and fed a regular supply of meaty guests. Aside from the inevitable obsession with another RTE show, Ireland's Greatest (a ridiculous conceit from the very start to the very finish), Tubridy was clearly at home with the likes of Nigella Lawson, Ronnie Wood and Colm Wilkinson, in tune with their celebrity, happy in their company and looking like he belonged there. One of his weaknesses is that he can't disguise his boredom when he's confronted with a guest he has no interest in, but there were no such problems on Friday.

And so in the space of a week we have seen The Late Late Show at its worst and close to its best. Which way will it go in the future? If it takes the low road, then it might as well not exist, which may well be the direction it's heading unless Tubridy does something about it. As Friday's show indicated, he is our most natural and instinctive broadcaster, and doesn't deserve to go down in history as the man who presided over the decline of The Late Late. But it really is up to him to stop the rot.

The guillotine in one, the gullible in the other

As President Sarkozy of France surveyed his revolting nation during the week, his thoughts may have turned to the European prime minister he envies above all the others – Brian Cowen.

How is it, he must be wondering, that a proposal to increase the pension age to 62 in France can provoke a week of all-out strikes and demonstrations that threaten the success of his presidency while in Ireland there is not a peep from the citizenry despite the retirement age being increased to 68, a savagely high unemployment rate, pay cuts and the certainty of more pain to come?

One reason for the passivity may be that a general election is imminent and people are happy enough to wait until then for revenge.

Another, perhaps, is that people are fearful after three years of being told by the government that all manner of international bogeymen will come and eat them unless they do what they are told.

If that fear ever changes to anger, French-style demonstrations may follow. Budget day will be interesting.