Punch down for long enough and you’ll end up hitting rock bottom. That appeared to be the creative direction of The Footy Show for years before it was executed in the dark this week.
The new hosts — a line-up of wonderful new faces in Fox Footy’s Neroli Meadows and tennis champion Dylan Alcott — were notified of their sacking only after the credits rolled on Thursday.
“We remain committed to the AFL and creating great AFL content, and we will continue to focus on new ways to engage audiences who love the code,” Nine’s Melbourne managing director Matt Scriven said in a statement, sent as Meadows signed off: “See you next week.”
There were 735 episodes of The Footy Show. It was a part of our lives for 25 years and went on to be Australia’s longest-running sports entertainment program during prime time.
Fewer than 14,000 people watched the last show in Perth. But the death knell started ringing last week when it reached a ratings low in its home town of Melbourne, with just 53,000 viewers turning in.
The new iteration featured none of the original on-air personalities in Eddie McGuire or Sam Newman and lasted only eight episodes.
When McGuire and Co. started out in 1994 they were given six weeks to make it rate. During the halcyon days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, it consistently finished in the top 20 programs of the year, especially the popular grand final special.
Every footy season viewers could be certain of one thing, no matter how badly your team did the Thursday night institution would always make you laugh. It was a ratings hit and an advertiser’s dream. It was also the Tony Lockett of the Logies, every year taking home a haul of biscuits from TV’s night of nights.
Sam’s Street Talk was comedy gold when the pampered Newman strolled the streets of Melbourne’s less glitzy postcodes. Shane Crawford made the big men cry more than once by raising close to $1 million for the Breast Cancer Network Australia.
Newman and McGuire were in their prime as footy Rain Men, reeling off stats, correctly predicting match-ups and calling in the most-talked about players to appear on their panel.
They even managed to broker a peace deal between former North Melbourne teammates Wayne Carey and Glenn Archer after Carey was caught out sleeping with the wife of another teammate at Archer’s house.
But as the tectonic plates of TV, sport and society started to shift, McGuire and his “yeah the boys”-type co-hosts chose to ride the bumps instead of jumping on the wave of change. In 2008, Trevor Marmalade — the show’s barfly who kept the cast in check with his witty comebacks and self-deprecating jokes — left his post after 15 years.
It dawned on viewers that during Street Talk Newman wasn’t laughing with his subjects, he was laughing at them. The annual revue turned into a circus when Brendan Fevola met then circulated revenge porn of Lara Bingle, who was engaged to the Australian cricket captain at the time, Michael Clarke.
Ratings began to slide.
Newman began to make headlines for a slew of controversies, one in which he manhandled a mannequin dressed in lingerie to resemble respected football journalist Caroline Wilson.
He was at the centre of another storm for seemingly making crude remarks about former Tasmanian MP Paula Wriedt when she was on the show talking about the State’s bid for an AFL licence.
“We couldn’t get her on, could we?” Newman said of the pre-recorded chat. Hosts James Brayshaw and Garry Lyons reacted before he chimed in with: “It’s worthy of coming on her.”
He refused to apologise. Instead, he issued a bloated, pompous response. “I have been erroneously accused because I didn’t have any intention of saying anything that could develop into what it became,” Newman said without realising it would have taken less time and energy to just say: “Sorry you got offended.”
These followed him dressing in blackface when Nicky Winmar cancelled an appearance on the show in 1999 and being sued by philanthropist, AFLW founder and former vice-president of the Western Bulldogs Susan Alberti for defamation.
As the wheels began to fall off, the drivers refused to pull over. McGuire and Newman stepped aside only last year. Both were incapable of appreciating the world had moved on. With the arrival of social media and streaming services, TV stars needed to work smarter to hold onto their audiences. Some fans blamed the “snowflake generation” while critics saw a show run by tone-deaf blokes struggling for relevance.
McGuire, Newman and The Footy Show did great things for the sporting entertainment industry. Their show made the AFL more accessible and our weeknights more fun, but their Marie Antoinette-type refusal to secede didn’t help the show, which was in more trouble than France in 1780s.
Now there is no cake left to eat or court to play in. The party is officially over.