Af­ter a tough 2008, The Footy Show’s Garry Lyon sees a light at the end of the tun­nel, writes Dar­ren Devlyn

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ITS CRIT­ICS will tell you the end of sea­son 2008 can’t come quickly enough for The Footy Show. The year started badly for its cast when con­tro­ver­sial pan­el­list Sam New­man re­vealed he had prostate can­cer.

New­man’s post-surgery re­turn to TV was too swift. Though never afraid to em­brace con­tro­versy, New­man’s in­stincts for mak­ing good tele­vi­sion had de­serted him.

He was widely crit­i­cised for an ill-con­ceived stunt in­volv­ing a fe­male man­nequin and Nine forced him to take a break and have coun­selling.

When he re­turned to air, New­man was again in hot wa­ter, ac­cused of mak­ing a sex­u­ally of­fen­sive com­ment — ve­he­mently de­nied by New­man — about a fe­male politi­cian.

New­man has been sub­ject to scathing crit­i­cism and the show’s co-hosts Garry Lyon and James Brayshaw, both loyal friends of New­man, have not es­caped un­scathed.

Be­cause the show does not have a des­ig­nated whipcracker as host, Lyon and Brayshaw have too of­ten let ‘‘jokes’’ run that should have been scuttled be­fore they got out of hand.

The show’s rat­ings have at times dipped this year amid ac­cu­sa­tions it’s lost touch with fans, par­tic­u­larly women. Its crit­ics in­sist it has been ir­re­vo­ca­bly tar­nished by stunts that have back­fired.

Lyon, how­ever, is firm in his con­vic­tion the show has plenty of life in it yet.

The for­mer Mel­bourne Foot­ball Club cham­pion is cer­tain the show will fin­ish 2008 on a high with its big­gest event of the year — the Grand Fi­nal Footy Show.

The show will have an ’80s theme and fea­ture mu­si­cal acts Kim Wilde, Vanessa Amorosi and the Liv­ing End. You’ve been co-host­ing for three years. How would you mark your­self as to how you’ve pro­gressed, year by year? Lyon: The sec­ond year was bet­ter than the first. This year has been ex­traor­di­nary for a host of rea­sons. And it’s been the tough­est. Sam is a great mate of ours (Lyon and Brayshaw) and two weeks be­fore the show you get a call say­ing he has prostate can­cer. I’m not sure if peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate the im­pact that has. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘‘Oh, s---’’. Not once were we think­ing about the show. It was about the man. You are con­cerned about whether the bloke is go­ing to live or die. He’ll hate me talk­ing about this, but that’s the re­al­ity. Sam has al­legedly said he hasn’t made good de­ci­sions this year be­cause of his frag­ile state of mind. Do you agree with him? There are a cou­ple of mo­ments where I’ve thought, ‘‘Geez, I wish you’d done that a bit dif­fer­ently’’, but when­ever some­thing hap­pens peo­ple say you can’t lose Sam be­cause he is The Footy Show and no­body ap­pre­ci­ates that bet­ter than us (Lyon and Brayshaw). I was crit­i­cised for the ‘‘Caro’’ thing (New­man fondling a man­nequin with foot­ball writer Caro­line Wil­son’s face sta­pled to it) and I ac­cept that. But if I jumped in ev­ery time Sam teetered to­wards the edge, our show would be off-air by 9.45pm. I think he’s a ge­nius at be­ing able to read where the line is. Maybe this year he crossed it once or twice and when he does you think, ‘‘S---, I wish I’d pulled him up a bit’’. But more of­ten than not he gets to it (line of de­cency), he nudges it, but he doesn’t go over. Have there been times this year you’ve wor­ried about your im­age? You’ve got to be true to your­self and take re­spon­si­bil­ity. That is­sue with the ladies (crit­i­cis­ing women who at­tacked the show) . . . I’ve never been dis­re­spect­ful to women in my life. To have that la­bel put on you is hard to take. You can’t take the good— we have great jobs and are well paid and it’s great fun— if you’re not pre­pared to take the risks that come with two hours of live tele­vi­sion with the most un­pre­dictable en­ter­tainer (New­man) on air. The show has prided it­self on its strong fe­male fol­low­ing. What’s the feed­back now? The most talked about thing was the Caro­line Wil­son thing and it was a po­larised view­point. We got moun­tains of feed­back. It was a 50-50 thing. The show seems to lack clearly de­fined roles. There’s too much un­cer­tainty about whether it’s you or James who’s go­ing to in­ter­vene and keep things on track. When you have a co-host sit­u­a­tion it’s dif­fi­cult and I don’t think we’ve ever said, ‘‘You do this, you do that’’. I ap­pre­ci­ate what you say. The for­mat has been in place for 15 years. It

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