The Late Late Toy Show is upon us, marking the real start of Christmas for most Irish families with young children.
This year's theme is The Lion King, based on Disney's 1994 blockbuster film of the same name – a suitable one, it might have seemed when it was first conceived, with a vaccinated population ready to roar after being locked down for so long.
It was time to "let loose a bit" and let the kids run wild, said host Ryan Tubridy. "Freedom is yours, but we might have got a little bit ahead of ourselves."
The roar has turned into a bit of a whimper with Covid-19 numbers the way they are. As a consequence there will be an audience this year, but it will be confined to 50 people. In a normal year it would be 220.
The audience watching at home will most likely be the biggest of the year, as it is every year. The Late Late Toy Show is the “last refuge of terrestrial television”, Tubridy said.
“People are sad, people are worn out and they are looking at us to say, ‘give us some colour in our lives.’ It is a big ask because I don’t want to let people down,” he said.
At a time of fractured viewing figures and attention spans, there is nothing anywhere, outside major sport events, that commands a national audience like The Late Late Toy Show.
Last year's Toy Show commanded the biggest audience to date with 1.5 million dedicated viewers who watched the entire show from start to finish. It is perfect material for social media and for watching back on the RTÉ Player.
It will be Ryan Tubridy’s 13th year as host – lucky for some. Some of those who performed as children at his first show are now adults, he said, and tower over him.
This year’s iteration will be promoting smaller toy shops that are struggling in the Amazon-dominated and post-Brexit world.
"I would urge people to get their toys and books from places like that. They need it in a way that Jeff Bezos doesn't," said Tubridy.
"If that is possible, that's the way to go. Too many big shops from UK and America are bringing the high street to our towns and villages and it's not great for who we are. We are an extraordinary country and I would hate to see that eroded by big multinational firms strangling the lifeblood of the towns and villages in Ireland. "
There will be a cast of dozens of children taking part “in person”, as they say in these extraordinary times.
“I am bowled over by children in a pandemic just when you thought children couldn’t be more amazing in a pandemic,” said Tubridy.
The Toy Show Appeal is back for its second year running, which last year raised €6.6 million of much-needed funds for Irish charities, where an estimated 635,690 children and their families will benefit from a huge variety of different support organisations.
Donations can be made via rte.ie/toyshowappeal
The Late Late Toy Show airs at 9.35pm on RTÉ One on Friday. It will also be available to watch live worldwide online via the RTÉ Player