It was poison and dry long before you came…

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The beginning of the end

 

A lot has happened since last we checked in – Jack Riewoldt and the Killers already seems a long time ago. We are firmly in the grip of the post Weinstein “chill” and the effects it’s having on the culture will be long-lasting and significant, albeit we may 3 years from now find it changed nothing and the main principals are back in positions of power. In Australia, the new paradigm is evolving – not least, because so far the only person to be truly and justly pilloried is a vile aging gardener long past his prime. Don Burke won’t be the last cast aside of course, because nothing is sure right now. The piper is being paid…

That’s an easy person for the enablers in commercial television to throw under the bus. See how they respond when one of their main stars is in the gun – that’s the true test of a shift in priorities in Australia. Because having for so long dealt in cosy certainties, the new world challenges a lot of things. If you don’t think public relations firms aren’t meeting with TV stations to “advise” right now, well…the mood within TV stations is panic, deep deep panic….

Since this is the first time in the storied history of television (and other industries, but we’ll focus on television for now) that women are being believed and not having their stories dismissed is a sizeable change in what Australian TV networks are used to – and how it is all going to play out is still ongoing. Self interest is kicking in well and truly. Well, a different kind of self-interest – the individual is saving themselves, rather than saving the network. Some people have already contacted PR companies to practice their apology and they haven’t even been named, people who choose not to get out of what they are in to.

The box in the corner is done

The first thing to note is the Burke revelations (and subsequent revelations about, say, Matt Lauer) show that the era of the monoculture of television is over. Everyone who has worked in PR has dealt with the “indispensable” TV star. No matter how late the person is, unprofessional that person is, and yes, “Don Burke” that person is, they were always cushioned by the magic box in the corner that provided ratings and profit.

The boozy big star/bad behaviour era of Channel 9 in particular is long gone. It’s now impossible to imagine in the streaming era that there was a time a TV network could delay the next episode of a show for 7 weeks because the viewer had no other choice. In other words, the star system is now dead. There’s no true network star immune to the network moving on from them as fast as possible. The “protect the ratings!” era is over.

Realising the monoculture era of TV is over was a significant mis-step on the part of the 9 powerbrokers bringing “the band” back together for the Footy Show (Trevor Marmalade will be back at some point). That was a chase for ratings that don’t exist, and the Footy Show accepting it’s not the mid 90s again and they are on the same level of influence as, say, 360 and Bounce presently wasn’t sitting well with Eddie – so he flew in to save the brand like the nation was going to huddle around a TV set because he made a skit on a horse. The prime example of this shift was the heavily hyped “Dustin Martin decision” interview which was well and truly spoiled and almost through the news cycle by the time Eddie “broke the story”. There were minimal ratings gains from chasing the “big interview” but Eddie again tried to use what once worked – and it failed.

Eddie McGuire isn’t the solution. There’s no solution, no magic wand that turns it into a ratings gem. Of course, once the Footy Show realises that and stops chasing ratings they have a choice to make on their future direction. You can expect some truly clunky television as the Footy Show tries to “modernise” and have more female panelists (if nothing else, McGuire knows his buzzwords) before Sam Newman messes the whole thing up. If they want to go niche, they can of course fully embrace “we’re bringing back the glory days of the sportsman night!” and become more blokey, until Sam Newman messes the whole thing up by going too far. Which of course ties into the central point that no one is indispensable anymore – commercial TV is in panic, and they’ll throw any show that gets negative publicity quickly to the wolves. Particularly if that show has a history of “controversy”, a highly/overpaid main star…those discussions, as they say, are “ongoing”…

I know what girls like…

For football media (and sports media) in general, how this is all to play out it is interesting – the key PR buzz word is “female friendly”, and you can expect your favourite purveyors of blokey banter to talk up their female friendly credentials at all opportunities. Eddie McGuire wasn’t grinning inanely in Neil Diamond sideburns while “Girls Run The World” was playing over the end credits of the Grand Final Footy show for nothing. If you are a producer or a TV executive and you aren’t looking at growing female participation rates for playing football, you aren’t doing your job properly. However, as you can imagine, in AFL media the idea of dropping the blokey vanguard and doing things a different way isn’t going to be easy…

After all, playing a Beyonce song once and throwing to Daisy Pearce for a patronising question or two isn’t being female friendly – it’s tokenistic. Encoded deep into AFL football is still a very blokey sense of humour to say the least. And making a “female friendly” football show isn’t about simply putting a female on the show like commercial radio used to do (her role was to say “come on boys! That’s enough!” and throw to Mondo Rock, no more). That’s most people’s idea of making a show female friendly, letting Bec Maddern gurn to the camera and laugh off Sams insults, or having shirtless blokes on during the revue, like it’s a “ladies lunch” from the 1980s (an actual pitch story by the way). Female friendly shows aren’t necessarily hard to create – if you are willing.

And of course, those that are “willing” are going to let you know about it, because no PR opportunity should be quiet. You can bet Eddie will be beating his chest and pointing out at every opportunity how female friendly his show is, while he’s engaging in locker room banter at the same time with Sam and Trev. The truth is, the successful female football shows aren’t going to come from commercial networks, not with their baggage and not with their track record. You aren’t bringing the hottest act of 1995 back together and expecting them to change their sensibilities. In fact, it’s going to be hard NOT to have Sam rant on the opening show about how all these damn women are chasing money and they should know their role…

It’s going to come from a grass-roots type effort – a podcast, a YouTube show that grows big, and yes, support from the AFL website. The fear from commercial television, the one they are discussing, is you already know that. They don’t know how to do female friendly sports shows, they just hope you accept their best efforts and a female host or two and the mid-season revelation that Lily Mithen is hilarious and a 10 minute interview with Sam Kerr and it’s passable…

Why have you forsaken me…

The most interesting question then is this – if no one is indispensable, and ratings are more fractured, what happens to the traditional Melbourne media boys club? After all, how this all used to play out was tediously predictable – the female complainant would never work again in the industry, and the male participant would do a token penance before their friends rallied around.

The best American example is Marv Albert, who was stood down during a sexual assault trial in 1997 and then back calling basketball a few years later like nothing happened. Over here, the infamous “Wayne Carey rehab” episode of Eddie McGuire Tonight featured McGuire waving his hand at the viewer and saying “we’re not here to talk about the past!” before puffing and preening how great it was to have “The King” talking about forward lines” – and just like that he was back fronting White Ribbon night on Channel 7 without question – that’s how it’s always worked in Melbourne. The only true sin? Be a “bad bloke”…hello Jason Akermanis…

The major thing yet to play out is if the Melbourne boys club can save their own (for yes, there will be at least one of “their own” named at some point, inevitably) this time. Or even if they want to. After all, the days of Kerry Packer destroying incriminating video tapes of Don Burke are gone now. The boys club might look after their own patch, they might decide to distance themselves from their newly toxic “friend” – Carey, Lyon, Fevola, they’ve all had indiscretions forgiven, and they are the just the ones we know about and can legally discuss.

Now? That’s the great unknown going forward. There was always a sense of tedious inevitability to the rehabilitation cycle of a Melbourne footballer. Cultivate the right relationships and the world was your oyster, no matter how you belittled. Public relations were done for you, backed up by friends with supportive references. The great unknown is when one of their own falls, is the rehabilitation going to be as easy as it once was. Whether this time like all the other times “everyone deserves a second chance!” still holds up and those taken down will have their names back in lights in 3 years. Or if the boys club will sacrifice their own to stay in their roles, present a more “enlightened” face to get by, nod fitfully that Erin Phillips and Sam Kerr are very good and hope no one leaks the off air audio of their real opinions.

I’m just trying to get a handle on this

That’s not to say the new, ahem, “female friendly” world of sports media is going to be magical and wonderful. We’ve already seen the Channel 9 “Malibu Stacy” commentary team for this summer, and there are still enough Twitter trolls and 50/50 writers and people who say “but it was 1987! Who cares!” and who chafe at any female intrusion into their precious sports. It’s possible they go our way and we go ours, with niche products for everyone.

There’s also a potential goldmine for any network who makes a genuine AFLW TV show, but that seems to have evaded most of the thinking. So far, the reaction to the post Weinstein era has been trying to buttress themselves with alternative plans if Star X is embroiled, and tweaking existing football shows with token appearances from female comedians “on location” who “look lovely tonight” – the thinking right now is muddled, panicked and lacks direction.

Suffice to say though, it’s going to be a different world in the media landscape for the next 12 months at least, and you can decide if those changers are anything but cosmetic – they don’t know what female viewers want, and they are going to throw mess at the wall and pray it sticks, while hoping those “inappropriate relationships” or “out of context” audio doesn’t leak…

And finally…

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It would be remiss not to mention that the Herald Sun – the purveyor of morals and good taste and investigations that it is – took a story about Colin Sylvia stalking his ex girlfriend by filming her asleep and decided that it needed a little illustration. So Wayne Flower decided the best way to show the serious crime of stalking and terrorising someone was with a Spiderman photo. Because after all, stalking is inherently like a superhero, and utterly hilarious, and should be treated with the seriousness of a story about a cat getting stuck up a tree. Oh that cat, will he ever learn…

Needless to say, even by Herald Sun standards, we don’t need to get into a difficult and turbulent rant about how utterly despicable this truly is, and the fact it made the print version and the website version truly shows how clever Flower thought this illustration was. It was a moment of unreviewable, unfathomable stupidity that deserves utter condemnation. But you knew that…if only the Herald Sun did…

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