McGuire’s return in late 2017 came after several challenging years for the show but failed to provide the ratings bounce it needed. The Front Bar, which has taken a more laid-back approach by eschewing the often mundane daily news and has had comedians Sam Pang and Mick Molloy join straight man Andy Maher, discovered an untapped market.
There had been changes to The Footy Show set and format last year, including humorous interviews with former stars of the game, something The Front Bar has been built around, but past glories could not be recaptured.
McGuire’s production company, Jam TV, is behind the new look but the man himself is no longer in front of the camera, admitting it had been “liberating to reimagine the show”. This has ensured a fresh look, with Lehmann and Meadows as the anchors.
It’s been a bit of a whirlwind few days for Meadows, who had her role confirmed and returned from a holiday in West Papua at 6am on Saturday to meet her new comrades as a “team” for the first time. While admitting the challenge is “scary”, Meadows is ready for what awaits.
“I wouldn’t say it’s daunting. I think the whole prospect of what is ahead is a little scary. People are really passionate about this,” she said.
“The number of tweets and social-media correspondence and Instagram direct messages, people have a real strong attachment to this show. It’s a genuine thing. It’s, obviously, scary but at the same time, I have never been someone who has chosen not to do something because it is a bit of a risk. I never want to be somebody that turns down an opportunity because it might not work out because the upside is so much greater.”
There is no shortage of football shows in an increasingly saturated market but Meadows said the strength of The Footy Show would be its relationship with guest players.
“I feel really passionately that it’s about the players. I think there is a bit of a gap. There are so many shows at the moment. There is so much analytical stuff and then there is so much stuff looking into the past and all these sorts of things but I don’t think there is a show that is just for the players,” she said.
“I think that has been missing a bit in the footy landscape. That has always annoyed me when people say that players never say anything, they don’t have any personalities. I think they do and they do have a lot to say. I think this current crop of players, this generation, they have so much to say and they are so passionate about so many issues. I just think it is an untapped resource on television.”
In what Nine says is a “new-look variety show” – super band ARC will appear on Wednesday night – there will be still be some familiar faces. Former Carlton star Brendan Fevola will be on the panel, while Hawthorn premiership great Shane Crawford, who has become something of a prankster over the past decade, while also raising money for several causes, will have a role visiting local clubs.
Wheelchair tennis champion Dylan Alcott will also be a regular, injecting what Nine says will be humour and footy knowledge.
In football parlance, The Footy Show has undergone a rebuild. It’s now time to deliver.
The Footy Show: Channel Nine, March 20, at 9pm.
Jon Pierik is a sports writer with The Age, focusing primarily on AFL football, cricket and basketball. He has won awards for his cricket and basketball writing.