The Producer Page: January 1996

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • Life After Producing
  • Live Shot From Hell
  • But Alice, What about *YOUR* Website?
  • I Can't Believe S/he Said That On Air!
  • Letters to the Editor

  • LIFE AFTER PRODUCING

    When your best reporter calls in sick, when the third lead story of the day has crapped out, and when you just can't think of a better weather tease (Will it be cold tomorrow? Find out next..), maybe you've given just a tiny thought to bagging thi s job and going for something else. But WHAT else?

    When the urge to bag it all strikes me, I imagine myself being interviewed for a non-television-related job. The interviewer asks, "So why should we hire you?" I can never think of a better answer than, "Um, well, I can write a vosot!" Of course, the transition does work for some people. Here are a few success stories from folks who made it happen for themselves.

    Carissa Hazelett (cdhazele@srp.gov)

    I left TV news in 19 92, after a 19-year career, and promptly switched to producing industrial videos for a major Arizona utility.

    It took a couple of years to stop missing the daily action of being in a newsroom, but there are payoffs:

    1. My work week rarely exceeds 37 1/2 hours.
    2. Permanent day shift.
    3. Overtime pay.
    4. Holidays off.
    5. Very little supervision.
    6. Stability in management.
    7. No screamers.
    8. Script approval process is nowhere near as excruciating as in TV new s.
    9. Lots more time to work on projects.
    10. Need to slide a deadline? NO PROBLEM.

    Phil Cozzolino (PhilCozz@aol.com)

    I have moved on since my producing days at nbc-4 in Los Angeles (Burbank..). While I actually still work there as a newswriter on saturdays and sundays.. I am currently working full-time on producing a feature length independent film.

    I wrote the script and will also play one of the leads. I in the middle of casting and crewing the film now, with the in tention of shooting it in April.

    My success.. well, we'll see about that in time, but it's the hardest and best project I have ever worked on!

    Joel Albert (Jralbert@aol.com)

    The something else I found to do last August was to retire! Early.

    Quick background: I was a producer in the 60's and 70's at NBC O & O's, first Cleveland, then Washington. Then, upward to Management for 20 years at WRC as News Operations Manager. That slot entailed some specials and special proje cts producing and EP'ing. But no more daily hard news line producing. In all, 39 years in TV (and some radio) newsrooms.

    Major differences between then and now:

    SHOW PACING

    They've become faster and more complex with the advent of special effects, Starship Enterprise switchers, and electronic graphics. In the old days (notice I didn't say "good"), we had art cards and straight cuts switchers! Oh yes, rear projection pix.

    TAPE

    Film shot well made undenia bly better images but it was, looking back, ghastly stuff to handle. Thankfully, the plug was pulled on those vats of "soup" where your story sometimes got overcooked, undercooked, or dissolved. The last half of the 90's will witness the beginning of the end of tape (except as an archive medium). It had a 20-year run.

    LIVE:

    A liveshot used to be a major corporate endeavor. Cumbersome and costly. We did them, of course. But they consumed huge quantities of manpower and budge t. The cables were as thick as your forearm, cameras sometimes had to be hoisted into place with a crane. While we do liveshots so easily and take them for granted now, I want to point out to the folks in the business less than a decade that mincams/microwave/sat trucks are a relatively recent phenomenon (whose end, incidentally, is drawing nigh as digital digs in). I fibbed in the lead. I didn't fully retire. Being a full-time "viewer" isn't enough. I have done a few special projects/consulting assignments for my former colleagues in between catching up on missed fishing and boating opportunities. Always fancying myself a special projects expert, I was delighted to be called back to help set up convention coverage for the NBC O & O's. One of my work responsibilities was to manage the Basys/Avid newsroom computer system. Since "retiring" I have trained new users on the system. And, I am looking forward to working with a group that helps emerging democracies conduct their elections. < p> On the non-broadcast front, I have assisted my son and his partner launch a retail business. Everything from sweeping floors (literally. Honest labor is character building) to assisting customers (TV news people should learn how better to cultivate viewers as customers) . For the future, I want to go back to school but haven't decided which courses to pursue.

    Meanwhile, each morning and evening, I turn on the tube and find new reasons to respect and admire the good, smart people who us ed to be my colleagues.

    Lisa Napoli (Napoli@interport.net)

    Once a producer, always a producer. But I left the daily grind of a tv station years ago and have always found the skills I learned in a newsroom so helpful. One of the more interesting things I've done since is teaching classes on media and marketing for nonprofit executives.

    I still dabble in field production and producing, but for the past year I've been in the Web business. I think tv people will dominate the new media industry, rather than print, because we have such a different sense of pulling together stories and projects than print folks do.

    Christopher Harper (harperc@is.nyu.edu)

    I spent 15 years with ABC News in Lebanon, Egypt, Rome and New York at 20/20. Four months ago, I left to become director of graduate studies at New York University's Department of Journalism. For 15 years ABC paid me a lot of money and didn't listen to what I had to say.

    Now students and their parents pa y a lot of money and actually listen to me. I also have been writing magazine articles, working on a book of fiction, and a CD-ROM project. I even took courses at NYU. One of the most enjoyable changes is that I read articles for content, not style and placement in a newscast. This past semester I taught a course called "Journalistic Tradition," which analyzes the best writing and reporting in the past 250 years.

    Imagine having the time to read Ernie Pyle again, Homer Bigart and listen to Ed ward Murrow on Buchenwald!

    Kathryn Henry (KHenry@nhtsa.dot.gov)

    I am a former producer, most recently from NewsChannel 8 - an all news/24 hr. station serving the Washington DC metropolitan area. I was present at the "start-up" of the station in September, 1991. In February 1992 I joined the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (NHTSA) as a public affairs specialist. What appeared to be a drastic career change initially, soon became a very relevant job suiting my journal istic background. In the past four years I have produced the agency newsletter (Editor), a four-page publication issued every three weeks. ( I have creative license on content etc.) I also manage our two highly successful public service campaigns with the Ad Council on drunk driving prevention and safety belt education. Perhaps you're familiar with the Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk slogan, and "Vince and Larry" the crash dummy duo of TV, radio and print fame. Recently, I wrote, produced, an d anchored a 40 minute video (produced in-house in a "media center") entitled "Lessons in Facing the Media and Message Development." The video, intended for the agency senior and mid-level managers, offers "insider" tips on how to put their best foot forward when dealing with the media. I also arrange satellite media tours (radio and TV) and prepare the head of the agency to effectively present our messages in the media when we have newsworthy events, which is often.

    The government experienc e, coupled with an intimate knowledge of the advertising business, (frequent trips to Los Angeles for production, Chicago and Manhattan for creative review) the public relations process and media consulting for government officials has strengthened my overall journalistic education with practical experiences in the world of the newsmaker. But I still love television! Let's face it. You never really lose the bug once bitten. I'm confident that my present position has given me a greater insight/ knowl edge and depth into other aspects of communications, and will make me a better producer/anchor when I do return.

    Meg Moritz (moritzm@spot.Colorado.EDU)

    I was a producer at WMAQ-TV in Chicago from 1975 until 1986, first in radio and then in TV. In 86, Ii took a position on the faculty at the University of Colorado, School of Journalism and Mass Commuication. This is my 10th year and I feel like I've won the lottery, especially when I talk to friends still in TV news in Chicago, and elsewhere.

    I have developed research interests in gays and TV and in the changes in Eastern European media systems in the so-called post-Communist era. I've had the opportunity to do research and reporting throughout Eastern Europe and I've presented my work at a variety of conferences all over the world....things I never even got close to in my news position.

    I still teach television news writing, reporting and producing classes, but also offer seminars in media and culture. I have tenure and am looking forward to the on-going opportunities and challenges of working at a large, research instituion. I also still have the chance to work as in independent documentary maker..the only hitch there is getting funding.

    Anyway, I'd still go back into TV if I could. Not line-producing, but policy making and managing. at this stage of the game, however, I doubt that I could make the transition back, i.e., I don't think I'd get any offers...even though I have a Ph.D., know a lot about media systems in other countries, and am something of an expert on news and diversity issues.

    Catherine Silverman (SilverMedia@cis.compuserve.com)

    After nearly 10 years in broadcasting, I'd had it! I escaped from the TV news rat race in 1990 & haven't looked back since. I'm making more money now as an independent producer/director. And more importantly I'm infinitely happier. But I took a lot of knocks before I realized I had to take control of my own destiny.

    I had started as nig httime jazz jock on the 100,000 watt NPR affiliate we students ran on campus. I paid my way thru college with that job & working fulltime 1980-83 for WDAY-TV & radio, the then-NBC affiliate in Fargo, ND. I did everything: assignment editor, producer, reporter, on-air talent -- I was even interim news director for FM.

    When I realized that no one ever leaves Fargo & there wasn't likely to be a frontline spot for me in the near future, I moved to KTVK-TV Phoenix, as weekend producer & eventual ly 6pm producer. After 3 years, I was off to WGAL Lancaster PA, WEWS Cleveland & finally WLWT Cincinnati -- 5 stations in 10 years, whew! -- before starting my own production company in 1990. The good news is that Silverman/Media Inc. is still going strong after 6 yrs.

    The bad news is that while jobs tend to be more stable in conservative markets like Fargo & Cincinnati, in many other markets, producers still have to move around a lot in search of better pay, better hours, more appreciation. Of course, what are you going to do when the head hunters keep calling, offering you more money & bigger shows? Or when ownership, management, affiliation, or all of the above change? Often you're the victim of people & circumstances beyond your control. Which is why I finally got out.

    Now I call the shots. I do the projects I want to do, controlling the creative approach, script & production values from start to finish. I get to play with the latest gizmos in the biz: 3D computer animatio n, digital compositing & effects, nonlinear tapeless editing. Altho most of my projects are high-end corporate communications & marketing videos, I also work in film, mini-documentaries, broadcast specials and commercial spots. My most recent project was a humorous mini-doc on actor George Clooney of NBC's episodic drama 'er' & his famous showbiz family.

    Most importantly, I've found time to have a family. We have two wonderful boys aged 3-1/2 years and 6 months. During both pregnancies, I w orked right up to within a few days of delivery. After the second, I was back in my home office within weeks, writing articles for trade magazines & scripting my next project. I was back on location in 3 months. Unlike my husband, an assistant TV news director who puts in 50-60 hrs/wk, I average 30-40 hrs and I decide when & where I work. Some days I don't have to leave the house. Oh yeah, I do get the occasional urge for the adrenaline rush of the daily deadline or the midday heart palpitations from too much too thick coffee -- we used to joke that if you didn't keep your hand on your mug, the newsroom brew would crawl out under its own power! But whenever I do feel the need for a fix, I just visit a TV newsroom & after about 10 minutes of mind-numbing scanner traffic, I can just say no.


    ANYBODY NEED A TV JOB?

    Alice Main (AJMain@aol.com) Producer, WKRC Cincinnati

    Okay, so after all that, you still want to stay in the business. I just want to make sure you all know about a website that has tons of potential as a resource for TV news people. It's called TV Jobs, at http://www.tvjobs.com.

    Mark Holloway runs the site, in addition to his regular job at a station in San Diego.

    I think he's doing a great job, and urge you to check it out if you have web access.

    Here's some of what Mark told me about the site:

    "I am doing this for a couple of reasons. First, I have been in the position a couple of times in my career of not being able to locate work. Sending resumes never seemed to work for me. So I guess you can say that TVJobs arose out of my frustration in trying to locate employment. Second, I have always enjoyed trying to help people locate employment in this industry and even before the web took off, I kept a pretty good database of employers and employees all with the hopes of matching talent to need. When the WWW took off, I saw it as an opportunity to continue my efforts in locating j obs and matching people to them. I guess you can say that it is a labor of love." "We have great plans for expansion. We are working with minority and women's groups to open up this field to those who traditionally have not been part of this industry. We are also working on providing information in the educational field to help high school seniors decided on what telecom college is best for them and for the college student, information about internships across the country. We are also actively tryi ng to create a database of world wide television stations and their addresses/fax/phone numbers. So we are branching out into a number of areas that will help a broad spectrum of people."


    BUT ALICE, WHAT ABOUT *YOUR* WEBSITE?

    It's called The Producer Page, and it's almost finished. Maybe another week or two. The problem is, my computer keeps breaking. For now, the website contains past and current issues of the newsletter. It may get more involved later on. I don't have the http address yet, but I'll let you know when it's ready. Thanks to The E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University for putting the page on their server.


    MUST BE ROUGH ON THOSE 747s
    Anonymous Contributor

    When I worked in Fort Wayne, Indiana, our station aired an editorial once a week. This "Point of View" was a very boring talking head. So, when appropriate, we used video over most of it. One "Point of View" was about how the local airport badly needed runway renovations. At the time, we had an intern who helped cut video tape. I gave him the job of laying B-roll over the editorial. I even told him what tape he could find the generic airport video on. When the spot aired, I nearly fell out of my chair... This editor used World War Two footage of attack planes dropping bombs! No airport could withstand that kind of abuse!!


    LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
    by Jill Davis, 6pm Producer, KDFW, Dallas

    When I was producing at a small Texas affiliate, our reporter was covering a stock show where kids show animals and compete for cash. During the live shot he thought he would talk about the great food available for people who came down to see the animals. So when the anchors pitched to him he took a big bite out of a barbeque sandwich, unaware there was relish inside. Since he hates relish, his first inclination was to spit it out immediately. (Luckily he fought that urge.)

    He was determined not to swallow it so he chewed on it during most of the live shot then stuck it in the side of his mouth until his live interview was over.


    MOST EXCELLENT LIVE SHOT
    by Doug Stewart, Hartford, (dphotog@aol.com)

    The best live shot I ever did was a total combination of luck, people, and equipment. I was heading to cover a mayoral debate with another photographer. I was driving our live truck, he was in a separate unit. Our plan was to shoot vo of the debate, feed it back and train on how to work the truck. We couldn't find the location of the debate and as we were stopped at a light a motorist stopped opposite me was waving and pointing north. Like most live units, ours was festooned with logos, this time it came in handy. To the north I could see plumes of smoke about 4 blocks away. This was in an old industrial area full of mill buildings, occupied and unoccupied. I drove over in the general direction, turned down an alley and came out in a parking lot directly across from the main side of the unoccupied mill building. I told Ernesto, the other photog, to go and start shooting the west side, as I could cover the south and east side. I started rolling tape and got smoke and the start of flames as the fire crews started showing up. It's now about 4:35pm, I call back and tell them I'm at a fire, I need to tune in a shot, I've got tape to feed, and trying to catch my breath, "This...this...is... BIG." Flames were shooting out of the 4th floor now. I didn't realize how bad I sounded, until I saw and heard the raw tape later, (I was rolling as the camera was set on a tripod.) As soon as the shot was tuned in at 4:40, they broke into programming with a special report with flames starting at the 3rd floor now. Then again at the top of the five, through the 5:30 and 6 with the builing totally ablaze. We had great pictures, 3 reporters who were on top of the story, and a cooperative fire department. We had been on for almost an hour before the competition got their live shot up.

    Before the reporters arrived on scene, there was talk at the station of having me hook up a lav and describe what I was seeing. As they discussed this one of the anchors leaned over and flipped the audio feed for nat sound that I was sending back and the sound of me having an asthma attack filled the room. They quickly cancelled that plan, and called to ask if I was all right.

    We won AP Breaking News Reporting and Photography, (2nd year in a row, and last year we made it a hat trick with a third.) By the 11pm show, we broke the news that four juveniles had been arrested for the arson. It was one of those great news convergences, when you have a great group of people.


    I CAN'T BELIEVE HE/SHE SAID THAT ON THE AIR!
    Anonymous Contributor

    One night a huge sperm whale washed up on the beach where I live. It was huge and pulled the heartstrings of many viewers. Anyway, the story ended happily, and the anchors decided to talk about it in the cross talk before weather.

    No lie, the main anchor looked at the other anchor and the weatherman and said "So how 'bout that sperm that washed up on the beach?"

    Another Anonymous Contributor

    In the preshow tease between the 5 & 5:30 newscasts, we were teasing an upcoming story on the exhumation of Jesse James. Someone (a manager!) wrote it in a hurry and it was supposed to say something like, "He's been dead a long time, but experts want new answers f rom Jesse James." Instead, it said, "He's been dead a long time, but experts want new answers from Jesse JACKSON." Luckily, most of the callers thought it was funny.

    Another Anonymous Contributor

    This happened during the OJ Simpson trial. We took a lot of Manuel Gallegus generic live shots from Los Angeles, several a week in fact. Then, it finally happened. Our main anchor who's been at the station about 20 years turned to the "window" and tossed to MANUEL NORIEGA who's standing by live to fill us in. I just about fell off my chair. Needless to say, good thing it wasn't a custom live -- Manuel probably would have dropped!!!!!


    WELL, IT ALMOST MADE AIR
    by Kim Kosmatka, (KSueKos@aol.com) Producer, Madison, Wisconsin

    I am the 5pm producer at my station in Madison, WI, but anchor a LOCAL cut-in right when I come in at 9am. Usually, I do it cold...but on this day, I had a chance to look over my scripts. Imagine my surprise when I found this: "Isra eli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is in Washington today to talk with President Clinton. This will be the first time Peres and Clinton will meet since the death of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin. On his way to Washington, Peres made a stop in Madison for a tribute to the former prime minister. He, along with Rabin's widow Leah, Vice President Al Gore, and a crowd of 15-thousand gathered at Madison Square Gardens." This was written by a new PAID part-timer! She was told that all cut-in materi al needed to be local...so she localized it! She's also localized by turning the White House into the State Capitol, and the Federal Budget into the State Budget.


    SHIPPING TAPES CREATIVELY
    by Art Hackett, Wisconsin Public TV (HACKETT@vilas.uwex.edu)

    Alice:

    Your story about shipping tape via truckers brought back old memories from my days at KWWL in Waterloo, IA. I worked at the bureau in Dubuque and normally shipped my material via busses which left at 12: 30 and 5:00. If something broke later, I came up with the idea of getting on CB radio, flagging a trucker down, and handing them the material along with a five dollar bill. They would usually drop it at a Burger Chef a few blocks from the station. (It was hard to park a semi in front of the building).

    One time I had film of a fireman being resuscitated at the scene of a fire. This was at about 6:00 in the evening.... I drove to the highway, got several truckers on the line, but none were interested. I was about to give up when one called back and said he'd be willing to change his route a little. I gave him ten bucks and sent him on the way.

    I didn't see the news that night because I was at a meeting and didn't think more of it until the next morning.

    As I walked into my office, the Corporate Vice President for News was on the phone. While the News Director at the station thought I had come up with an innovative idea, and bragged about it in speeches, the V-P thought it was crazy, unreliable...and so on.

    The film hadn't shown up, the producer had gone nuts looking for it, and this was proof this system had failed as predicted...he continued. As he was talking to me, someone walked up to him, and handed him an envelope, the one with my film in it. Apparently the trucker arrived in time, rang the bell, gave the envelope to the master control engineer who was on the first floor...who apparently tossed the envelope on the front desk...where it rema ined all night. The V-P hung up the phone shortly thereafter.


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Alice,

    I think that WRIC was properly chastised by its viewers for its ratings first, damn the consequences approach to the garage door opener story. Chris Matthews says no one (to his knowledge) was hit up by crooks after his station showed crooks how easy it was to open garage doors with off the shelf replacements.

    If so, he was damn lucky. But from t he way he told his story to the Producer it was obvious he relished the fact he had panicked viewers -- and wouldn't even tell them the "secret" when they called. At least that is what he leaves us to believe.

    The problem of default settings on garage openers was certainly a good topic for the news show. Doing it the way WRIC did it, hyping and teasing regardless of the public good, is what gives local news the unsavory reputation it too often has. Matthews wasn't doing journalism...he was usin g information for purely entertainment and commercial purposes.

    And the sad part is, having done such a splendid job in the first story of showing how easy it is to break into homes, he will never know how many robberies and perhaps rapes and murders he has inadvertently triggered in the months to come.

    Joe Russin
    former news director (KPIX) and
    senior producer Inside Story with Hodding Carter


    Alice,

    My station was just purchased by Benedek Broadcasting, based in Rockford, Illin ois. Pending FCC approval, they'll run 23 stations across the country.

    Wondering if anyone else has any stories to tell...good or bad. We'd really like to know what we're up against! :) Kim Kosmatka (KSueKos@aol.com)