Vale Before The Game

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.


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  • BIlly C says:

    Hmm not sure if you’re drawing a long bow here. The show was literally before the game. It was on before the football, without the football it kind of lost it’s purpose and only serves to advertise the product on a competing network. It’s a reminder to switch over.

    Perhaps Ten are realising that Roving Enterprises shows might be a bit of a waste of time. Before the Game, This Week Live, The Project? None of them exactly set the world on fire ratings wise. Heck they even tried Sticking Carrie Bickmore on SYTYCD and it flopped harder than Everybody Dance Now. Ten’s problem is that everything is doing so badly that even if they had a brilliant show they’d struggle to get anyone to watch it. They’ll get a few people watching Offspring when it comes back and maybe Puberty Blues for once the Olympics are done.

    But back to Hughes… yes he’s well liked or at least is in Melbourne. He sells tickets and people listened to him on the radio. But on Tv? The Glasshouse never rated gang busters and the project is the same. He’s never been a tv drawcard. He not a deterrent and I’m sure a lot of people really like him but I don’t think his lack of involvement in a panel show would sink it.

  • Rutegar says:

    I agree it is pretty much the end for television when a panel show is considered unsustainable — although debate about the quality of said panel show might be a factor.

    But never discount the influence of “conservative” network owners and influential advertisers deciding they don’t like too much pesky subversiveness on their screens.

    Too many gags at Fearless Leader Prat Tony or Soulless Owner Gina R’s expense would have seen any show axed from Channel 10 (or 7 or 9 … and maybe ABC and SBS come to think of it).

    John Doyle warned a few years back that the country was entering into a cultural Dark Ages … and he weren’t wrong !

  • Baudolino says:

    “Hmm not sure if you’re drawing a long bow here. The show was literally before the game. It was on before the football, without the football it kind of lost it’s purpose and only serves to advertise the product on a competing network. It’s a reminder to switch over.”


    Before the Game had spent two years hanging by a thread since Channel Ten lost AFL broadcast rights prior to the 2012 season. Most of the footy shows on ONE, Ten’s digital network, were axed in the rights announcement aftermath, and there was serious speculation at the time that Before the Game would follow. Although the show survived, Channel Seven compounded Ten’s woes with the launch of their pre-match show Saturday Night Footy, meaning Seven’s match coverage started at 6.30 and screened opposite BtG. For all intents and purposes, the last two years of BtG were essentially a controlled exercise in promoting an event that another network happened to be actually airing at the exact same moment. Not exactly the most expedient use of air-time.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Yeah, no. BtG wasn’t “promoting” AFL – it’d be difficult to argue that AFL could actually need more promotion in Melbourne, what with getting locked-in coverage on the nightly news every night of the week, etc etc – it was exploiting it, in much the same way that Nine has run The (AFL) Footy Show for close to two decades now, almost all of which time they haven’t had AFL rights. By your logic, why does Ten or Nine even report on AFL during their news services?

    No doubt being able to run “before the game” was a big help, and if they’d axed it the year they lost the rights, or even the following year after experimenting for a season without the AFL, your argument might hold water.

    But to let it run for two years after losing the AFL then to axe it two days after Dave Hughes says he’s leaving is a pretty clear sign that losing Dave Hughes played a much larger part in its axing than losing the AFL.

  • Baudolino says:

    I wasn’t saying that BtG failed because it was a case of a non-broadcast network “promoting the AFL in general” ala The Footy Show/Footy Classified/The Marngrook Footy Show/TAC Cup Future Stars. I was deliberately differentiating BtG from those shows, because it functioned as a pre-match preview show designed to promote a specific television event, and when that specific event started running on another network, BtG did not cease to feel like it was specifically set up to preview and promote it. OK, maybe Hughes’ exit was the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the show’s audience share was so negligible during the 2012/13 seasons that BtG was always right at the edge of cancellation. Indeed, the degree to which the cancellation felt like an outcome that would inevitably happen sooner or later is the reason I would feel uncomfortable drawing big conclusions from it about Ten’s commitment to the “Hughsie business”.

    I don’t deny the loss of Hughes played a part – like I said, I think you’re right that it was the final straw – but in the broader scheme of things if Ten had the broadcast rights the show would be doing much better numbers and would almost certainly have continued with or without him. The loss of broadcast rights may not have immediately ended BtG, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a huge impact on the decision to finally let it go.

  • 13 schoolyards says:

    Before the Game was hardly ” a pre-match preview show designed to promote a specific television event”. They talked general crap about the week in footy for the first segment, had a player – who obviously wasn’t involved in that night’s game – on as a guest in the next, handed out fake awards, had pre-recorded segments, live crosses, and so on. There was next to no specific discussion of that night’s match (maybe a minute or two as part of a general discussion about upcoming matches) – it was a general AFL show that could have aired any time (and briefly did run on Thursdays).