On the Couch is must-watch TV for footy followers. Likewise, the boffin-like, after-the-game exchanges on Fox’s First Crack between David King and Leigh Montagna (also regulars on AFL360). These commentators’ respect for each other and open-minded interest in what they each have to say speak of a genuine passion for the game.
That also shines through in Yokayi Footy, although in a different way, as a refreshingly alternative voice makes itself heard. The title is a Noongar word that means a victory cry, and the show concentrates on Indigenous people and their football and other endeavours. Waters (“Megzy”) is a Warumungu/Yawuru woman, Krakoeur (“Andy”) is a Noongar Yamatji man, and White (“Didge”) is an Arrernte man. Nicknames matter in the footy world: when you have one, it means you’re accepted; when you use one, it’s a way of reaching out.
While Yokayi Footy’s match reviews rarely move far beyond the obvious, the show draws attention to often-sidelined aspects of the game and its culture, such as the AFLW competition, field umpire Glenn James’s celebrated career, and Michael Long’s 650km-walk to Canberra in support of The Voice.
Footy Classified is very different in tone and demeanour. When it began in 2007, Tim Cleary, Nine’s executive in charge, promised it would have “a confrontational philosophy”, declaring its ambition to be “in-your-face-TV”. A goal that it has well-and-truly kicked. The tension between “Hutchy” and “Caro” is palpable; headline-chaser “Cornesy” is barely tolerated; “Lloydy” sensibly circles the pack. Here, there’s little camaraderie in the use of nicknames.
The default mode is outrage. Contracts, conflicts and controversies are the chief interests, and the results are not only “in-your-face” but sometimes downright unfriendly. However, the Wednesday evening version of the show, usually hosted by the garrulous McGuire, is much more measured.
The shifting panel of current and past players on AFL360 – which Whateley calls “the AFL360 family” – is built around the Laurel and Hardy-like partnership he shares with “Robbo”, and which has him as the chief strategist. While Robbo unwisely makes a show of flying by the seat of his pants, Gerard’s inclination towards melodramatics and Grand Pronouncements is reflected in the show’s tone. The talk is generally engaging, lending a human face to the game’s celebrities, a quality it shares with Yokayi Footy. But the hyped-up montages of game highlights, whooping commentators and roaring crowds quickly become tiresome.
A promising new recruit to the panel shows is Seven’s Talking Finals. The host is James Brayshaw, the great nickname dropper, and he’s done OK so far, although it’s the underused but ever-reliable Tim Watson who steers the conversations with recent retirees Luke Selwood and Trent Cotchin. While somebody somewhere unwisely decided that they’d all look better standing than seated (real men never sit!), “Sel” and “Cotch” are both likeable and game-smart and their conversations about players’ mindsets give the show winning colour.
Like AFL360, though, Talking Finals has initially seemed overproduced, unnecessarily concerned that talk alone isn’t enough to carry it. The pointless clips on giant screens set up behind the panel members are dwarfing distractions and too often there’s little useful correlation between what’s being said and what’s being shown. Nonetheless, the program and the contributions by the trio of ex-players are welcome additions to the AFL talk stable.
The final siren for season 2023 is only days away, but it’s still too early to make a call on who’ll be signing up for the future or what changes will be made to current formats. The only female with an established role on any of the shows is “Caro”, although several others – like Kath Loughnan at Fox and Daisy Pearce at Seven – are potential key-position players. Will some of the old hands be pushed aside by other options and network priorities? Will the behind-the-scenes teams recognise that all they need to do is remain unobtrusive? And appreciate that the talk is what makes these shows tick.
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