This one kind of passed us by, happening as it did during the off season and coming as more of a “hey, guess what’s not coming back in 2014” announcement: Before the Game is no more. The popular and long-running sports… wait, “sports”? Why are we mentioning it? Oh yeah: despite being AFL-focused it featured a number of comedians as regulars, including Mick Molloy. It also featured a number of “comedians” as regulars, including in its early years Peter Helliar – remember his popular yet rubbish “Straunchie” character? – plus Anthony “Lehmo” Lehmann, and Dave Hughes, about which more later.
On the surface there’s not much here to report. The show ran for a decade, so it’s hardly like it was cut down in its prime. While it remained a strong performer in Melbourne, reportedly the ratings in other states (especially non-AFL states) were weak and with Ten no longer having broadcast rights to AFL matches it was seen by some as no longer fitting in with the rest of the network’s programming. Sure, that doesn’t make much sense – Nine has been running the massively successful AFL Footy Show for the last 600 years without having broadcasting rights to AFL – but hey, let’s let Ten boss Russel Howcroft explain it (as told to last week’s Herald Sun Confidential):
“Unfortunately, it’s a show that costs money to make”, he told Triple M’s The Hot Breakfast.
“It actually is only watched in Melbourne – you’d think maybe Adelaide and Perth would watch it, so it’s hard to get the ratings to the point that you need them.”
Business-wise, it had to go. “Commercially, it was hard to argue for it.”
Really? Sticking five people behind a desk is now too expensive for Channel Ten? If they can’t afford to make a show that involves pointing a camera at a desk, presumably they’ll soon be abandoning their broadcasting operations entirely and moving into the far more lucrative storage space business. Don’t nobody tell them that their Melbourne news doesn’t rate at all in Adelaide and Perth or they’ll be axing that too.
But networks make dumb moves every day of the week, so this is still straightforward stuff. Except for one thing tucked away at the bottom of this report in the News Ltd papers:
The decision to axe Before the Game comes days after Hughes stepped down as one of the presenters of Ten’s The Project.
Wait, what? Ten lost ratings-winner and all-round top bloke Dave Hughes from one program then decided “Hey, why even be in the Hughsie business?” and axed his other show? Considering the massive yet utterly inexplicable popularity of the “I’m angriiiii” comedian, that doesn’t make any sense. Which is why it’s not true:
With his final appearance on The Project desk occurring tonight, comedian Dave Hughes has confirmed to this website that he is also stepping aside from popular AFL program Before The Game.
Hughes will have a greatly reduced role on Before The Game in 2014 however has promised to still “be involved” after making the decision to solely focus on his stand-up comedy career.
That report’s dated December 11th; the news that Before the Game had been dropped by Ten broke on December 13th. And with Hughsie saying he would still “be involved’ with Before the Game in 2014, it sounds like they were still planning for there to be a Before the Game in 2014 when he decided to quit.
So the real story is this: without Dave Hughes, Ten was no longer interested in Before the Game. So why not just say that? Maybe because it makes the rest of the cast look like worthless hangers-on. Maybe because they still want to be in the Hughsie business and don’t want to paint him as the bad guy. And maybe because it would make it look like the Ten executives couldn’t hang onto one of their biggest stars.
After all, it’s always better to be the one doing the dumping.