Producer Page: July 1996
IN THIS ISSUE...
When you work in a newsroom 10 to 12 hours a day -- often evenings and weekends and always holidays -- it's no wonder that more and more people date and/or marry someone in the business. After all, where else are you going to meet ANYONE, much less someone who understands the pressures and demands of TV news?
Hey, I know whatof I speak. My husband and I met 10 years ago in a newsroom in Lancaster, PA at WGAL-TV where we both produced. And we're still in the same business -- sort of (more on that later). In fact, most of the TV couples we've heard from met on the job.
"My wife and I knew each other as fellow interns, then coworkers at KCRA-TV, Sacramento, for two years before we even started dating," says Ward Koppel, a producer at KOVR-TV, Sacramento. "When we got married in 1982, several folks asked which one of us was leaving. 'Neither,' we replied. As the news director put it, we'd own the station by the time all the legal action was done if he tried to force one of us out."
Til Death Do Us Part
As a result, more stations are allowing spouses to work together. Battling turnover, producer shortages and the threat of lawsuit, some stations have simply given up their anti-nepotism policies. More often now, the only rule is that one spouse cannot supervise the other. And even that provision can be pushed aside by staffing problems.
"My fiance and I (we're marrying in September) both worked at the same station in Louisville and both moved to Milwaukee in January," says Paul Whitmore with WDJT-TV, CBS 58 in Milwaukee. "I accepted a job here and Betsy came along for the ride. We expanded before we were even on the air and Betsy was hired as an associate producer for the 5:00 and the 10 (my show). We have worked the exact same shift for about four months now, and we have no problems at all. Whatever happens at work stays at work. She basically works for me on the 10 and we keep all personal feelings out of it."
Working relationships with a personal side are not always calm. One 6pm producer who did not want to be identified has been dating the graphics operator for two years now. "We work together -- and fight together -- in the control room. And we go home together after the show is over. I wouldn't have it any other way. No one else can understand the stress involved of a story that breaks minutes before you go on the air. But when the situation gets tense, it does make for some hellacious battles in the control room. The rest of the staff knows when to keep their mouths shut and duck for flying pencils!!!"
Whitmore and his fiance handle the stress by commuting solo. "We drive to work separately and that seems to help after the newscast," he says. "We each head home alone and we've chilled out when we get there. After that, we'll talk about things that happened at work, but there are no critiques of one another's performance at home. That all stays at work. After a ten-hour day, the last thing either of really wants to talk about is work, but it usually helps us wind down. We spend about 22 hours a day together and that hasn't posed a problem yet. We just try to separate the 10 hours at work from the rest of the time we're together."
Most of the time, personal relationships can actually improve performance on the job. And many spouses feel the station benefits from that relationship. At WLWT-TV, Cincinnati, I produced an hour newscast from 5:30-6:30pm while my husband produced the 11pm. We had a healthy competition going that resulted in a better product for us and the station. Matt helped me out with nightside teases for my show and I could fill him in on the best shots from the early news. We even executive produced each other's Superbowl coverage which was all live remote from Miami. We were told by the news director we were a great team and those were some of the best shows the station had ever broadcast.
Ward Koppel worked overnight producing the morning show for KCRA-TV while wife Cindy was a dayside tape editor. "My wife told me about problems with tapes, feeds, etc. that happened during the day," says Koppel. "She'd also let me know if dayside reporters had cut undated tracks for their stories that I could use the next morning. I did the same for her regarding things that happened overnight. It gave both of us a foot up before we got to work."
Koppel and his wife worked opposite shifts for a couple of years until scheduling problems threw them together. Suddenly, Cindy was editing for Ward's morning show. "From 1984 until our son was born in 1987, we worked together," says Ward. "I used to joke that for at least 8 hours a day, my wife had to do what I told her!" "He still does -- only in the past tense." adds Cindy.
Ward Koppel says their arrangement was good for the station as well as the marriage. "We worked well as a team, we both cared about the product, and when a story broke that needed cut-ins after 7 am, they had a Producer- Editor team in place to get that handled. The only disadvantage I am aware of involved vacations. When we took our vacations, they had to cover for two people on graveyard shift at the same time."
Vacations are a sticky subject for everyone in TV news. Matt and I even had trouble finding time to get married. Of course, national sweeps months were out of the question. Then there the local ratings periods. All of which left us with only five months out of the year when we could get married, five months during which everyone at the station was competing for time off.
Then there's the matter of starting a family. To conceive a child without artificial insemination, you pretty much have to be in the same room at the same time, preferably without the entire newsroom watching. Once you've achieved a pregnancy, what happens next is of paramount concern to news management. How are they going to cover for the both of you while you have the baby? Will Mom be coming back? Will Dad?
All America is struggling with daycare and no one more than TV news people. Since newscasts are on the air when most people are not at work, most daycare centers are closed when news couples need them most. "We ALWAYS have to work holidays and have to farm the kids to Grandma's because the entire rest of the world is closed," says Koppel. Not everyone is lucky enough to work in TV in their hometown, though. And that may one reason the Koppels aren't going anywhere. "I have to admit we may not be typical news people. We have no intention of ever leaving Sacramento -- we'd change careers first -- and at this point, we don't even plan to do that."
Fight or Flight
Unfortunately, every news couple will face inevitably face that decision, forced by either management or circumstance. "Everyone knows that to move up in this business, you have to be willing to move. And a couple that works together has some serious decisions to make," says one 6pm producer dating a co-worker. "This is his hometown and he doesn't want to leave. But his department has just been slashed and he's not sure he wants to stay in TV either. I want to stay with him, and stay in TV, but there aren't many opportunities for advancement or salary increases here. It makes for some interesting discussions."
Matt and I had been working together at WLWT-TV for almost a year when the recently-promoted news director called us in a month before our wedding and said one of us had to leave. And if one of us went to the competition, it would put the other's job in jeopardy. This was the same guy who told Matt, "We don't care if she's your grandmother," when the station hired me away from WEWS-TV in Cleveland to take on the hour show in Cincinnati.
We talked to a lawyer who told us we could fight it and no doubt win, since the station had already lost a similar anti-nepotism case and had other married couples in their employ. Sure, we could fight it, the lawyer said, if we didn't mind waiting ten years for a judgment and being labeled in the business as troublemakers.
Our decision was for both of us to quit WLWT. Matt took a job across the street at WKRC-TV developing and producing their new 5pm show. And while I was offered a part-time position at the same station as special projects producer, we didn't ever want to be in that position again. So I went independent and started my own production company which is still going strong nearly 7 years later. Ironically, I've ended up doing a lot of freelance work for Matt's station but on my terms.
The Koppels came up against a similar situation thanks to new management, but they've handled it differently. "In 1989, a new news director wanted me to move to weekend graveyard shift to supervise news shows that were going to air from 2am to 1pm on weekends (yes, 2am to 1pm ! ). If I didn't take that job, he was pulling the option in my contract. My family is very important to me, and I found that to be an impossible work situation. Even if my wife had moved to weekends, it would have been impossible. Have you ever tried to find child care on the weekends? It just doesn't exist. After 12 years at KCRA, I found myself sending out resumes for the first time."
In Bed With The Competition
In these days of shrinking viewership and bloody ratings wars, a bigger concern than spouses working together is spouses working at competing stations. Ward and Cindy Koppel are working through that dilemma as well, since he landed a job at "The Competition," KOVR-TV, Sacramento.
"We were very concerned about potential problems working at competing stations," Ward says. "A most interesting pattern has developed though. I hear about my wife's station's big plans through the rumor mill at MY station before she hears about them at work, and she hears my station's big secrets at HER station before I hear about them at my work."
Koppel says they were puzzled until they figured out that many leaks happened when the sales department was courting sponsors as much as 90 days in advance. "Station A's salesman confides in a sponsor that they've just hired Stud Muffin the anchor away from Station B. Station B's salesman drops by later, makes his pitch, and the sponsor says, 'I'm going to wait until I see who you guy's hire to replace Stud Muffin. I really like him.' Station B's salesman goes back to the station, the info hits the rumor mill and Station A's big coup is old news by the time the news director gets around to announcing it."
As an independent producer, I work with all the stations in the market at some time or another, as well as most of the production companies and post houses. To avoid any appearance of impropriety, Matt and I often don't even discuss highly sensitive issues like personnel changes or news investigations. I don't even want to know.
Making the Marriage Work
Some tips: Handle your relationship with discretion and professionalism. Coworkers will follow your lead. My husband and I dated for almost a year at WGAL-TV, Lancaster before management knew we had a relationship. Not that we wanted to hide anything; we just didn't think it was anyone else's business who we dated and we didn't want the relationship to change the way we were treated at work. The news director didn't find out until we told him, as I was leaving for another job in Cleveland. The fact that we were able to keep our private life private was a tribute to our professionalism on the job.
Most important: always, always, always get it in writing. Make station management put their policy in print, especially when they make an exception for you. Our mistake at WLWT was in accepting the word of the assistant news director when he hired me away from Cleveland. He had pointed to another married couple in the newsroom and said there would be no problem. What we found out later when he was promoted to news director was that that particular couple's case had been "grandfathered" and corporate policy had changed.
And finally, be flexible. When the chips are down, which one of your careers will you support? Inevitably, you will have to make that decision whether it's forced by practicality or station management. And one or both of you will have to make sacrifices. Recently, Matt and I decided he was ready for the next step in his career and we wanted to be with my family in Phoenix while he did it. So Matt left WKRC-TV after six very successful years during which he had moved his way up to assistant news director. And I left a great clientele I had built up in six years of freelancing.
Now Matt is executive producer, second-in-command at KNXV-TV. I'm building our house and re-building my independent production business here in Phoenix, while our two boys get to play with their cousins and swim in Grandma and Grandpa's pool. I know what Matt's going through when he has to stay late to babysit a breaking story. And he knows where I'm coming from when I have to pull an all night edit to get the hour special on the air. It's been a bumpy ride but it's been worth it.
Koppel agrees. "I can say without exception, being married to someone in the business has been great. My wife and I understand each other's work, our work problems and our work schedules."
The bottom line, says one producer: "If you can work out the challenges, it's exhilarating to pool your creativity and produce a great looking show with the person you plan to spend the rest of your life with -- or crash and burn and go home with someone who had just as much at stake as you did."
It wasn't unexpected, but that doesn't make it any less painful...On July 1st, the management at KADY-TV in Oxnard, CA pulled the plug on the Ventura County News Network. The station management decided that our Monday through Friday half hour of news focusing on Ventura County was too specialized for a station which broadcasts to an area spanning Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, and also pockets of Los Angeles county. Tonight, 17 full and part time employees are out of work.
There are several sad things about this; the fact that some very dedicated and talented journalists and production personnel, through no fault of their own, are unemployed; the fact that an excellent training ground for up and coming talent is now gone; or the fact that Ventura County has lost the only television voice dedicated solely to its news.
There's nothing I can do about those last two items, but I'm hoping other readers of The Producer newsletter can help me to rectify the first. The KADY news staff was made up of real go-getters who knew how to leap tall buildings in a single bound. The obstacles they faced and overcame would make stong newscasters tremble and grow faint. I have worked with people in major markets who could not handle the situations the KADY team had to manage on a regular basis and produce good, solid newscasts.
There are producers, reporters, photographers and more who made miracles happen every day for me. I know they can do that for someone else. If you're looking for a miracle worker, please contact me at GDiamante@aol.com, or call me at (805)488-6063, and I'll help you find one.
A RELATED HIRE-ME AD, FROM THE KADY NEWSROOM
Calling all stations. I am a sports producer, reporter, anchor with two years experience in a medium and a small market currently looking for work. I am currently in the Los Angeles area but willing to relocate anywhere. I would be interested in jobs ranging from full time anchor to per diem writer and/or editor. I can be reached at 818-879-9558. Tape, writing samples, and references available upon immediate request. Thanks for the consideration.
Dan Rather was preparing to broadcast the CBS Evening News from a floating restaurant on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, overlooking the Cincinnati skyline. The original plan had called for Rather to stand outside on the deck, but that plan was scuttled by ominous clouds and a forecast of thunderstorms, so the production moved inside, and Rather stood in front of a glass window.
Rather was surrounded by people who checked his makeup, his lighting and his scripts, and who admonished the assembled audience when there was too much noise.
Standing to Rather's immediate left, just off-camera, was Allen Berman, senior producer.
Berman was talking by phone with Jeff Fager, the executive producer, who was in the booth in New York. It was 6:20, and Fager was changing the first block around. It was up to Berman to handle the changes at the remote site.
Local news staffers watched, secretly hoping for some glitch in the newscast that would prove that network people make mistakes too.
It didn't happen. Unfortunately, the newscast was smooth, thanks in large part to the expert touch of Al Berman.
HOW HE GOT THERE
Berman graduated from Florida Atlantic University in 1977, and started pounding on TV station doors in West Palm Beach until someone answered.
Berman worked part-time as a film cameraman, and later became a photographer-reporter.
"I was not all that impressed with my own performance. I looked at what the producer did and found that much more appealing, and so I swapped with a producer who wanted to be on television, and I became a noon producer."
Berman worked his way up to producing the 6 and 11 o'clock newscasts, before he moved to Miami in 1979 to become the weekend producer at WTVJ. He moved up to produce the 6 and 11 again, and then moved to WDIV in Detroit in 1985, where he once again produced the main newscasts.
It was 1985 when Berman moved to New York. He was the executive producer of the 6 o'clock news, and later of the 11 o'clock news at WABC.
In 1986, he jumped to the net. He worked on The CBS Morning News, and CBS This Morning, and then America Tonight with Lesley Stahl and Charles Kuralt during the Gulf War.
After the war, he was promoted to senior producer of the CBS Evening News, and has been there ever since.
A TYPICAL DAY
"I wake up, turn on news radio 88, and get a handle on the day's news. On the drive in, I call the domestic bureaus, the foreign desk, and the national desk. I'm in the door at 9 am. I read through 5 newspapers, and then start talking with my colleagues in the fishbowl," Berman says.
His colleagues include three other senior producers, a senior producer in Washington, and executive producer Jeff Fager, who's the boss.
"I'm specifically in charge of building the broadcast on a particular day. And I'm responsible for spot news and the economics team," says Berman.
The group fields story offers from bureaus all over the world.
"We list them, discuss them and prioritize them. Then we do what EPs and producers everywhere do. We weigh the elements, line them up, decide how long correspondents' stories should be, which stories will be for Dan, and decide on graphic support."
In the afternoon, the lineup is reviewed with the director, graphics, writers, tape people and others to make sure everyone is up to speed.
"Then, it's a matter of monitoring, reviewing and editing. The writers write copy for Dan. The correspondents and producers in the field are writing. Each script is assigned to one of the senior producers who works with the correspondent-producer team to make recommended changes. Sometimes the scripts undergo several drafts. They get script approval, and the team assembles the piece in the field and feeds it in," Berman says.
Berman sits in the booth with Fager during the newscast. When it's over, Rather joins the producing team in the bowl to talk about what worked, what didn't, and about what the other guys did.
AN ATYPICAL DAY
Last week, we got the news about the bombing at the US military housing complex in Saudi Arabia at about 5 o'clock. Of course CBS, NBC, and ABC all led the 6:30 news with the story, but CBS spent roughly twice as much time on the story as the other two networks did.
"We kept thinking, what else can we do?" Berman said the next day. "Can we get anybody on the phone? We got a witness. Is there someone who can put this in perspective? We got Faoud Ajami. We got David Martin. We wanted to keep it loose and live, if we get any new information let's be willing to break in to the broadcast. Everybody was throwing in ideas, and while we were on the air we broke in and changed things. Jeff (Fager) showed a great willingness to tear apart the news and put it back together. We have four feeds and updated each one, 6:30, 7:00, 8:30, and 9:00."
CAN LOCAL PRODUCERS MOVE TO THE NET?
It all sounds pretty familiar to a local news producer. All except that part about fielding offers from bureaus around the world.
So does that mean a local news producer's experience can get him or her to the network?
"I was absolutely much better off coming from local news than to have started at the network," says Berman, "because in local news you do more.
You can do everything: write, report, shoot, edit and produce. All of which I did. At the network the jobs are much more narrowly defined. At the network you can spend an entire career and never shoot a tape."
"The other reason is that in local news in smaller markets, you can make mistakes. Everyone does. You learn from them. If you make those mistakes at the network level, they could be too costly."
Matt Friedman (MattFrieds@aol.com) moves to WDIV-TV in Detroit from WCPX-TV in Orlando. A native of Metro-Detroit, he returns home after a few stops. The Syracuse University grad has also worked at WSB-TV in Atlanta.
I'm a recent M-U grad, who unlike the majority of my classmates, attended Mizzou to become a producer. I've been producing for the last three months at the local NBC affiliate and now seek a producing position elsewhere. You can read all about my producing experience, news philosophy, and see some of my work by typing up my web site http://www.missouri.edu/~c590915, or e-mail me at email@example.com, or write or call me.
I enjoy finding the "Producers Page," in my e-mailbox each month. I look forward to reading of the trials and tribulations of newsroom producers - TV folks across the country who in my view are the "grunts," of TV journalism. I asked Alice if I might offer an item every so often from a radio show producers perspective. Unfortunately she said yes!! So here goes.
First, please understand that I view the news on my telly from a fun position. I have spent 30 years in broadcasting..most of it on the TV side. I'm old enough to have transitioned from Bell and Howell 16mm to the multi-chip beta cam...from souping film to ENG and thence to SNG and soon to digital data that will pop out of the cam and into your computer. I have directed, reported, produced, assigned and managed in newsrooms large and small. Like most TV news folks I have been a journeyman journalist. Moving from Tampa to Louisville to Dallas/Fort Worth etc...
For the past two years I have been producing Talk Radio. (opps, there goes half of our audience).
As a TV news dude I was addicted to local news shows. Watching news when you work in the business is actually work...did they have a story we didn't have..did they do it better..did they get the great shot..did the technical work..you know how it goes. Today as a radio talkshow producer I seldom watch local TV. Yes, I still deal in the marketplace of stories and ideas but I find that local TV has nothing to offer me. I keep trying but the prime time teases turn me off..the lead story detailing the latest drive by shooting, body found or the endless pictures of a great highway accident are of no value to me. It's all file tape!!
As one who has been involved in countless special series geared to ratings sweeps I now find myself appalled at the TV and radio ads teasing exclusive coverage of an anchor persons pregnancy and promise to be there at the creation. The franchise items, "cooking with Fran," or "yardwork made easy," waste time that becomes increasingly valuable as one ages. (besides I can dial up a specialized cable channel and get as much Fran and yardwork as I desire)
I also agree, now, that most of the local TV (and a good measure of the network) stuff I see is slanted and biased and quite often very correct. Illegal aliens are "undocumented workers," in TV jargon. Christians involving themselves in their community are members of the "radical right."
Who am I to talk, you say? This guy works in "hate radio." (perhaps Alice will allow me to make a case for Talkradio in a future edition) Meanwhile let me refer you to the last major Times Mirror survey circa 1994/95. A well respected survey of the American electorate which reveals that more and more of us are getting information from talkradio. (doncha hate that?)
I sincerely believe that, as in my life, TV news is on the brink of becoming irrelevant. There are so many other places to get cutsy, pretty, mayhem and disaster that the only salvation for local news may getting back to basics. City hall coverage, reporting new information (rather than parrotting, with pictures, the morning edition of the Yukawhatch Daily Times), less sensationalism and more substance.
Despite the problems local TV news continues to shine when the major story hits. WAGA-TV in Atlanta did remarkable work the day of and the day after the Valu-Jet crash. Full bore coverage with reportage that the networks and newspapers were picking up only days later. I'll bet that is the case in your community too..when the big story happens Fran and the yard guy go out the window. News has priority in your newscast. Interesting concept, huh? Maybe we ought to try to convince our news managers (and consultants) that real news happens every day in our towns. And isn't pregnancy and the miracle of birth really a kinda private thing?
I can't wait to see the overnights on this column!!
Complaints, comments and the like can be e-mailed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
To make this handbook as valuable as possible I'd really like to hear from your readers. What do they wish they'd known when they first started out? What advice would they have for students and for new producers just hired or promoted into the role? What are the toughest issues producers face everyday when it comes to news judgement, leading a team, and dealing with complex personalities. All those issues you cover so well in the Producer Page.
By way of background I am a professor in Broadcast Journalism at Syracuse's SI Newhouse School of Public Communicaation. Before joining Syracuse, a great school incidentally, I was a GM at WVTM in Birmingham and WTEN in Albany, NY. Prior to becomming a GM I was a N D at WDIV, WJLA, and WPLG. I started as a producer at KOVR and produced at KPIX and WBBM. When I got my MA from Mizzou no one at the school knew what exactly a producer did.
Anyone who would like to help and has some ideas on how to help new producers, and rejuvenate experienced producers, can contact me a email@example.com or call or fax me at 518-456-2823. I can also be reached on AOL at Dcsmit02@aol.com.
Alice, thank you for your help. The Producer Page is terrific and I make it a point to share each new each with the students, part of my campaign to convince them that a career "behind the scenes" can be more rewarding and more fun than being a "star."
MATCHING PRODUCERS WITH JOBS
I'm NOT trying to start a new business here because I stay plenty busy at work and at home, but I get a lot of calls and e-mails from news directors who wonder whether I might know producers who would be good for their newsrooms. I help when I can. Just thought you producers out there might be interested to know that. Feel free to drop me a confidential note about what kind of job you're looking for ... and who knows? I might happen to hear about the job opening that's right for you. E-mail: AJMain@aol.com.