IT wasn't the greatest of starts for Nine's new-look NRL Footy Show last week, but industry pundits say it's the timeslot, not the new host, that is the problem.
New host Erin Molan faces her biggest challenge yet as viewers try to adjust to life after longtime host Paul 'Fatty' Vautin.
But Molan is used to the barbs, and has the backing of Nine director of sport Tom Malone, who isn't changing his presenting line-up despite a lacklustre debut spiralling into on-air embarrassment last week when Beau Ryan was left with nowhere to sit when he walked onto the set.
Malone and his new-look panel will instead concentrate on content and a new delivery as the show adjusts to life in a late-night Thursday timeslot, according to The Australian.
Molan, whose biggest crime for some long-time fans is that she isn't 23-year veteran Vautin, may have a poisoned chalice in that she's on a show with a reduced budget adjusting to life in which the reality of NRL season is now 23 Thursday night matches, meaning it no longer sets the stage for a weekend of footy as it did in its glory days.
But that makes Nine's rising star a logical, solid choice, not a star set up to fail, Mediaweek editor James Manning says.
"It's hard to imagine there is any host that could pull back the show toward the audience it attracted in its glory days," Manning said.
"It is easy to see why Nine has turned to Molan often as she comes across as a genuine media performer with a bonus of being able to engage male and female audiences.
"The biggest challenge the NRL Footy Show faces is the timeslot.
"Fans don't want to watch a program in big numbers on a Wednesday and its traditional Thursday timeslot has been taken by live NRL, which means Nine's only option is after the game Thursdays.
"It can be really hard to stop that audience from going to bed on a work night once the game has finished close to 9.30pm or later."
THE REAL ERIN MOLAN
The woman herself appears undaunted - the 34-year-old handled the awkward moments of the debut show with aplomb.
It's the same way she handles most situations - with humour, candour and poise.
And it was nothing compared to last year, which, she told Stellar magazine at the weekend, was her "toughest yet".
Forced to publicly deny, and then take legal action to clear her name when she was dragged into a court case between celebrity accountant Anthony Bell and his wife Kelly Landry, Molan learned she was "stronger than I ever thought".
"Things that used to hurt me and offend and upset me don't anymore," she said.
"You can say that I'm ugly, you can say I'm a s**t TV presenter, you can say anything you like about me. But there's certain things you can't say when they're not true."
In a career carved out through long hours and a solid worth ethic, Molan's currently juggling Footy Show hosting, sports news-reading duties, and a radio show with preparing to welcome her first child in June with fiance Sean Olgilvy.
The morning sickness has been pretty horrific, and a health scare in February saw her collapse at work due to low blood pressure and low sugar - a "wake up call" to "take it easy", she told Stellar.
"The baby is all good, which is the biggest relief ever," said the woman who, until he pregnancy, had only taken one day off sick in 14 years.
The Footy Show ruled the ratings in its glory days, but in recent years has seen a steady decline, so was ripe for change, and cost cuts.
For every person that loved it for its blokey, men wearing dresses schtick, there was another equally vehement that the show had to move with the times and become more female friendly, more footy focused.
The show has never aired at same time in AFL-loving Melbourne - it has its own version, and also falls prey to a Fox Sports NRL show bulging with sports journalists and commentators in a more specialised fan climate than free-to-air television.
At its debut show for 2018 last week, the NRL Footy Show had a two-city audience of 188,000 (in Brisbane and Sydney).
Over on Foxtel, The Late Show with Matty Johns attracted 101,000 viewers.
The NRL season opener before both shows averaged 542,000 five-city metropolitan viewers for Nine, and 183,000 viewers on Fox Sports. Percentage-wise, Nine's figures were down, while Foxtel's were up.
But Nine will stick with the Footy Show says Manning.
"Regardless of how low the Footy Show audiences sink, Nine will keep the program as part of its schedule as it is crucial to keep a link between Nine and the NRL audience and Nine and the NRL administrators," her said.
Indeed the Footy Show's biggest challenge this year might be finding a replacement for Molan in June when her baby is due.
She's not planning a long absence from screens, telling Stellar: "I think I will be able to go back very quickly, because I'll be able to be a full-time mum at home; I can do my prep from there, and then be able to go into work for a few hours at night".
She's hoping to take a nanny along with her for the evening news shift - but happily acknowledged: "I'm well aware that other mothers reading this will probably say, 'OK, you have absolutely no idea'."
She expects flak for going back, and says: "This child will be loved and nourished and nurtured and looked after better than anything else in the world - regardless of when I decide to go back and sit at a desk for an hour at night to do my job".
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