Erin Molan’s rising star burns out
NOT long ago, Erin Molan was a television star on the rise.
She was supposed to bring a new and more youthful energy to The NRL Footy Show on Channel 9, replacing veteran host Paul "Fatty" Vautin on the long-running show.
But barely a year later, the network announced today that the program has been axed after a dramatic ratings slide.
Molan's star now looks to be burning out, with one commentator bluntly declaring she "killed" the program.
When she joined The Footy Show as a news presenter and then regular panellist, it marked a historic moment for the program. A woman thrown in among the traditionally ultra-blokey space was designed to bring in a younger audience as well as more female viewers.
At that point, the show was struggling and network executives were concerned. For decades, the show was a staple for NRL fans across the country who enjoyed the mix of analysis, star interviews and plenty of humour.
When ratings continued to drop off, reaching a dangerous new low at the end of last year despite the ever-growing popularity of NRL, Vautin was sacked and Molan took his chair.
Oddly, two years before he was axed, Vautin mused about the sudden rise of Molan on the program and predicted he would one day be replaced.
"I have noticed in the last three years she has moved from being part-time, to being right down the end of the panel, she moved up one last year, and now she has moved up another one this year. So I think the writing is on the wall for me," he said.
The ratings slump was blamed on the start of Thursday night football, which saw the program pushed to a much later timeslot, but executives wanted a risky and dramatic overhaul.
In February, Nine's director of sport Tom Malone said he had given a brief to make the show "cool again".
Molan was to be a key part of that strategy, saying at the time she wanted to focus more on football in favour of the hijinks the program was known for.
"There were some very high expectations for Erin that many people here didn't think she could ever meet," a Nine insider told news.com.au. "Turns out, they were right."
The first show back for 2018 was a disaster, with viewers describing a series of sloppy production errors and a haphazard flow as "appalling" and an "absolute trainwreck".
It prompted an emergency rejig for the second week's show, but what was meant to be a clean slate was tarnished by a less-than-polished debut.
And for many loyal viewers, some of the old magic was missing. It was a prediction made by long-time regular panellist Darryl "Big Marn" Brohman several months earlier.
"Personally I don't see that if Fatty's gone that they can call it The Footy Show," he said at the time of Vautin's sacking.
It wouldn't be the same without him, Brohman predicted, and it turns out he was right.
In a column today for The Courier-Mail, commentator Mike Colman said Molan wasn't interested in NRL until she joined the network in 2010.
"This, then, was the person that Channel 9 chose to replace Fatty Vautin, veteran of 238 first grade matches, 22 Origins and 13 Tests, captain of Manly's 1987 premiership side and coach of arguably the Maroons' greatest-ever series win, the three-blot clean-sweep against all odds in 1995," Colman wrote.
Sacking Vautin was the beginning of a very rapid end, he said.
In a statement announcing the show's axing, Malone said The Footy Show had had "an incredible ride" and praised the panel's most recent addition.
"Fatty holds the record for the longest serving host of any prime time Australian TV show - a tribute to both his understanding of the game, his authenticity, and not to mention his incredible comedic timing," he said.
"In recent years, Erin has equally brought a new energy, perspective and showed her passion for the game."
As Molan's profile grew over recent years, so too did a tendency for controversy to erupt following her comments about matters outside of football. Increasingly, the spotlight was turned on her views more than the show.
Last year, she took a very public swipe at the AFL for its support of same-sex marriage during the postal vote, saying sports organisations should stay out of politics.
She appeared on controversial commentator Mark Latham's show on Facebook and said about the AFL's support of marriage equality: "I'm not a big fan of it".
"It doesn't do the cause any good, it's an individual thing," she said.
The Nine insider said: "I remember this utter confusion about why a sports personality was talking politics on Latham's internet show. It was like, what is she doing on there?"
This year, Molan took to Instagram to slam chocolate maker Cadbury for apparently removing the word Easter from its packaging, sparking a wave of fury directed at the company by her followers.
But it turned out that the packet she had bought was produced long before Easter, hence the lack of holiday-specific branding.
In August, she and The Footy Show panel aired a segment titled Gutsy Player of the Week, poking fun at the weight of former NRL star Dave Taylor.
"He was a gun player in his day, wasn't he?" Molan asked.
NSW Blues coach Brad Fittler responded, "What an athlete".
She apologised on Twitter after the show, saying she was "appalled" by the segment despite taking part in it.
With her show gone, Molan's short-term future looks unclear.
"They'll have to rest her, I think," the Nine source said. "There's a stink of failure that'll hang around for a while and that needs to settle."
For now, Molan will stay in the Nine stable and The Daily Telegraph reports she will now negotiate a new contract.