Nine’s Tony Jones -not to be confused with his namesake on ABC- knows what it’s like to be in the headlines.
He’s been with Nine News Melbourne since 1986, covering AFL, Cricket, Australian Open, Olympics, Commonwealth Games and more. Yet as his profile has expanded nationally, so too has the media coverage -often for reasons he’d prefer to forget.
There was that awkward kiss involving Rebecca Judd, an interview at the Australian Open with Naomi Osaka, live banter with the Today Show presenters and a nickname -“Chompers”- attributed to his pearly white teeth.
He recently walked off the Sunday Footy Show when the Judd footage was replayed -which only led to more headlines.
“It probably wasn’t helped with the Today show last year,” he tells TV Tonight. “It seemed that every time I open my mouth, I got into trouble for some reason. It doesn’t worry me to be honest. I mean, there were a couple of things last year where an innocuous comment just became a headline, for some reason.
“I don’t go looking for trouble. Sometimes it just presents itself.
“(The walk off) wasn’t pre-planned, but I’d said previously, ‘If you show it again, I’ll walk off.’ And inexplicably, they showed it again. I still don’t know why they did that. So I thought, ‘I might as well play up to it and walk off.’ So there was no malice or anything. That was all theatre.”
Jones is relaxed about the various stories, and beginning to see a lighter side to some.
“The Rebecca Judd kiss has had its day”
“The Rebecca Judd kiss has had its day. Okay, it’s an awkward moment, but let’s leave it there. The ‘Chompers’ thing is actually something I’m not going to fight because, it’s almost been a positive. My son is 25 and he said, ‘I don’t know why you’re getting shitty about it. People under the age of 23 know who you are because of it.'”
The Today Show cross, which saw Georgie Gardner, Deb Knight and Tom Steinfort failing to laugh at his response to killing Skippy for a kangaroo meat meal, was during a live cross from Sandown racetrack.
“You try and lighten up the occasion and it backfires”
“You try and lighten up the occasion and it backfires. The banter was a bit non-reciprocal in some ways. So that sort of landed me in a bit of trouble last year.
“I was out at Sandown and I tried a bit of banter and it just absolutely bombed. No matter how much I tried to get out of it, and tried to lighten the moment, I could just feel this hole that I’d dug for myself getting bigger,” he admits.
“But I stepped down from that show. I didn’t get the arse. I stepped down because it was just too much.
“All I was trying to do was just inject a bit of fun”
“All I was trying to do was just inject a bit of fun. But the tyranny of the delay – and I’m not using that as an excuse- but I couldn’t see them. So it just gets a little clunky and a little awkward at times.
“Having said that, I still watch the show. It’s a great show. This year’s version is fantastic. So even if I hadn’t stepped down, it would have been the right thing for them to move me aside anyway.
“But whenever they want me to do stuff for them, I do.”
After blowback for the Naomi Osaka interview he also quit Twitter altogether.
For whatever criticisms come his way, nobody could argue with his commitment, working 5 days at week on Nine News, filling in for Neil Mitchell at 3AW, filling in for Peter Hitchener during summer weeks and hosting The Sunday Footy Show which has its Grand Final edition this Friday night.
Jones works 6 days a week and loves it.
“Sunday is almost a labor of love”
“Yeah, I do. Sunday is almost a labor of love, but I don’t want to say that too loudly… It’s been a very, very long season. We would’ve finished probably a month ago but the pandemic obviously kicked in and had an influence on the season.
“When you work with a bunch of blokes like those fellas, it does make for a pretty (easy show). I know people always say, ‘the crew are (great)’ but they make it fun as well.
“I’ll have a couple of weeks off after Christmas, Eve, but I think I’ll do (3AW) all the way through and then have a complete two week break at the end of the tennis.
“If I didn’t want to do it then I would pull back on some of that stuff. But it’s nowhere near that stage yet,” he insists.
“Maybe in time, you’ll look back and say, ‘Did I get my priorities right?’ But I think I have at the moment.”
On Friday The Sunday Footy Show team –Billy Brownless, Nathan Brown, Matthew Lloyd, Damian Barrett and Kane Cornes- will be joined by Rebecca Maddern and Shane Crawford as Nine combines its annual My Room Telethon for the Monash Children’s Hospital.
Television, sport and entertainment stars will be on hand both in the studio and via a Virtual Phone Room to raise funds to help achieve a 100 per cent cure rate for childhood cancers.
“A lot of the footballers are ambassadors”
“A lot of the footballers are ambassadors for that, so they’ll all be part of the show. And we’ve got other staff like Nathan Brown wood-chopping. I don’t know how they got that across the line with OH&S but we’re all having a crack at that.
“I guess it will be towards the end of the night in case anything goes wrong!”
For the record, Jones is also tipping a Richmond win on Saturday after his beloved Magpies lucked out.
“I just think they’re good across the board. Geelong, when they haven’t actually won the Premiership, have never been too far off. But I just think Richmond, have got the taste …the way they dismantled Port Adelaide. Geelong are good, but I just don’t think they’re good enough.
“Mike Brady singing that song, at that ground, with no one there. It will be amazing”
“I’m really looking forward to Mike Brady at the MCG. Some people have said it’s going to be corny. But we’ve become very cynical in this lockdown. I don’t think it’s going to be corny at all. I think it’s going to be haunting. Mike Brady singing that song, at that ground, with no one there. It will be amazing. I think it’ll be an absolute highlight.”
As we conclude I ask if Jones would do anything differently regarding those headline incidents, but he takes it all in his stride.
“No I don’t think so,” he replies.
“Maybe there is a little bit of ‘If they’re talking about you that’s better than just ignoring you completely.’
“I haven’t really stuffed up that badly. Time will tell. That might come on Friday night!”
Footy Show Grand Final Eve: My Room Telethon airs 7:30pm Friday on Nine (Melb / Ade / Per).