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