Producer Page: March 1996
IN THIS ISSUE...
Some days, you're a puzzlemaster, fitting together the jagged pieces and personalities of an 8-hour period into a masterpiece of substance and style.
Other days you're like an elementary school janitor, and it's all you can do to keep the newscast clean. The daily grind of producing can wear on any of us, and eventually make some of us ponder that life-changing question:
What if I were the executive producer? Yeah, I could be the boss and have the final (well, almost final) word on what goes into the newscasts.
Before you consider making the leap, take a look at some of the scary stories I heard when I asked people to write to me about their EP experiences.
This, for example, from a former executive producer who didn't want me to use his or her name:
"If someone didn't like a decision I made, they could appeal it to the ND or Asst. ND and often did, and then the ND would change things back. Or he'd make up some outrageous new rule, like packages being 1:10, and I'd get the blame for it. When the 10pm producer continued to just straight dup stories from the early shows with no rewrite, I again and again went to the ND and he did nothing about it. But I also couldn't do anything about it."
Or how about this from Gina Diamante, executive producer at KADY in Oxnard, California:
"I was hired as EP at my current station, and then was left in charge when the News Director/lead anchor resigned two months later. I have not been promoted to the ND spot ... nor has another ND been hired. I'm also in the unenviable position of leading a news department that is worried about its fate, since our news time was slashed in half last month, our staff was slashed and our station is up for sale."
Many of us have heard tough stories like that, but we can't stop wanting to move up in the world.
Geoff Larkin, producer at WJBK in Detroit, says he wants to make the move "yesterday."
"First of all, I enjoy line producing, but I have a lot of ideas about programs, concepts etc ... and I'd like the chance to help formulate shows and news philosophy, rather than translating someone else's vision onto a screen. Second, I've had the chance to work with a lot of different people over the last five years of line producing (three in a Top 10 market), and I think I could be an effective leader. Third, the money ain't bad, so I've heard," Larkin says.
Luke Funk, a producer in Phoenix at KNXV, says he too wants to try his hand at executive producing. "I don't know if that's going to be next week or in two years, but I want an opportunity in the next two years. If it's going to be at my shop or another shop is hard to tell. They've hired internally in my newsroom, but if there's no opening, there's no opening."
Are these producers wishing for something they're better off without? The EPs who responded to my questions all tempered their enthusiasm for their positions, with warnings for others.
Mike Andrews at WRCB in Chattanooga enjoys the challenges of the job, and says his time as EP has been the most exciting, challenging and rewarding experience he's had in television news. But he offers a little advice: "You have to watch out for the power play squeeze -- people above and below trying to influence you and your decisions. It's your butt on the line and you can't blame anyone else."
Gina Diamante, who is acting as news director at KADY, says management is a lot tougher than she imagined it would be.
"As a producer, I was only responsible for my own newscasts and for the stories I wrote. Now I'm responsible for everything. That's a heady feeling, and it can even be scary. My staff keeps telling me I'm doing fine," Diamante says.
"I was happier as an EP than I was as a producer when I started this job," Diamante continues. "I was in a position to teach younger people what I've learned over a decade of TV news. But I've found that all these management responsibilities are getting me away from what I truly love to do, which is to write news and to put together newscasts. Instead, I spend my hours poring over time cards, arguing with the business office over the price of newsroom supplies, and the most painful experience, choosing which staff members would be laid off."
"I guess the biggest adjustment is sort of like when you buy a house--you almost reach for the phone to call and complain to the landlord then you realize you are the landlord. That's how I feel as executive producer.. to some extent, I am the landlord," says WRCB's Andrews.
Several EPs emphasized the positive side of their jobs. Gena Parsons was an executive producer at stations in Texas and Oklahoma before she went to work in the academic world.
"Both my EP jobs put me #2 in the newsroom meaning I was interim News Director a time or two also. I ran the day-to-day operations of the newsroom ... working with reporters, photographers, producers, anchors, editors, graphic artists, sports, weather, everyone. I worked about 10 hours a day and loved it (at least until I started a family). I'm not a control freak, but I admit enjoying having a hand in every aspect of the news operation," Parsons says.
"I love being able to make vital decisions that affect each of the newscasts we put on the air every day," says Rebecca Lutgen, of WBAY in Green Bay. "I also like the teaching aspect that comes with being E.P. I can give instant feedback to each producer on what they are doing."
Even Gina Diamante, who for my money is in the most hellish EP job imaginable, found something positive to say. "Despite all the troubles I'm dealing with now, working at KADY has been a very valuable experience. I've gained knowledge that you can't get in a shop where everything is going just fine. (Although I could have passed on the layoffs.)"
SO YOU STILL WANT TO TRY IT? AFTER ALL THAT?
It's true of TV news, and it's true of almost any business: you really can't know if you've got what it takes to do a job, until you're actually doing it. And the last thing any of us wants is to find out the hard way we were much better at producing than management.
Scott Libin, former news director and currently on the faculty at The Poynter Institute, says producers learn many management skills while they're going about their daily jobs, juggling dozens of tasks at the same time. But, he says, great producers don't necessarily make great executive producers.
"Managers have their place, but most newsrooms are looking for leaders, and there's more to leadership than time and task management. So, just as your best reporter may be a disaster at the anchor desk, an ace line producer can collapse as an EP. The skills it takes to craft compelling, consistent newscasts are part of an executive producer's job -- but only part. Not enough without out the rest of the skills an EP needs," Libin says.
C.J. Beutien, news director at WTOL in Toledo, advises current producers to work on their people and leadership skills, to prepare them for the step up the ladder. "Good writing and editing are a given. They also need to know how to communicate their vision of a newscast to reporters who think their stories are 'all important' and to anchors who think they 'know it all' because they've been around longer."
PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR EP WANNA-BEs
Our anonymous ex-EP (now happily producing again) offered the following advice, which I am now sharing verbatim because it's really good stuff.
Well, folks, at least one person has been listening to all this advice with extreme interest. That person is me, because I just got promoted to executive producer, effective today. Wish me luck. Sounds like I might need it. :-)
The most sensational story of the new year was the saga of Cheryl Barnes. She's 17 and disappeared January 3 from her home north of Tampa. Five weeks later, a nurse at a New York hospital recognized a "Jane Doe" amnesia patient as Cheryl herself, the subject of much searching and even more media coverage. The key word here is amnesia. She said she could remember nothing about how or why she ended up a thousand miles from home. The night that news broke of Cheryl's whereabouts, all five Tampa Bay TV news operations fell all over themselves to outdo the competition. The search for Cheryl was over, but the mad scramble for more and mightier adjectives to describe the story was just beginning.
It was near the end of a live report, one of many, from outside Cheryl's home that one station's anchor -- doesn't matter which one -- asked THE QUESTION. The reporter himself seemed to be near tears of joy. He had just promised repeatedly to bring viewers the story of the reunion that was about to occur, although it would be "just a very private, family event -- just the family and those of us who have been covering this from the start." Maybe to outdo that solid piece of journalism, the anchor delayed the reporter's return to the prayer circle inside for just a moment.
"Now, Biff (not his real name), just one question," the anchor said. "We know Cheryl has amnesia. But has anybody thought to ask what might have happened to her BEFORE she got amnesia?"
Honest, as Dave Barry says, I am not making this up. Current or former reporters, you know what must have gone through the reporter's head. First: "I cannot possibly have heard what I think I just heard." Second: "Okay, I just replayed the tape in my mind, and that really is what he asked." Third: "My parents were right, I should have gone into the family business and made an honest living."
The reporter stumbled and stammered rather admirably through an answer designed not to embarrass the anchor too badly, but above all to end the live exchange. He succeeded fairly well on both points. The anchor showed no sign then or since, as far as I know, that he thought he had said anything unusual.
ANOTHER LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
For a couple of months, my previous ND decided to put a reporter on the AM show for live shots, which of course meant finding something for her to do when nothing was really going on. One morning, an apartment catches on fire, destroying everything. I sent my reporter to the scene at 4am and got ready for a live shot. During the 6am hour, she tells me the woman who lived there can do a live interview. Great, I say. The woman starts saying how she lost everything, complete with dramatic pauses. I'm loving it; good TV, right? Then the killer. My reporter asks, "any idea how it started?" The woman looks straight at the camera and says, "yes, Louis Jones did it! He came in and turned on my stove, and..." I scream...my director screams...the reporter gets a twitch, and I can tell she's freaked out. I yell in her IFB, "wrap!" The production crew yells "lawsuit" and bursts into laughter. Needless to say, a little more pre-interviewing became the rule of thumb afterwards!
Todd Mazza was recently hired by NBC affiliate WJHG in Panama City, FL to produce the 5pm and 10pm newscast. This is his first "real paying" job in television news and he is very excited. He started February 5th. Todd is an August graduate of the University of Central Florida Radio and Television program and is glad to finally find a position.
"It was extremely difficult mentally to keep searching for a full-time position in this industry. But persistence (and a little luck) paid off dearly." Todd can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Matt Silverman, assistant news director at WKRC-TV in Cincinnati, is moving to KNXV in Phoenix, where he'll act in a similar role as executive producer. Matt also spent several years producing at WLWT in Cincinnati and at WGAL in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
On a related note, executive producer Elbert Tucker at WKRC has been promoted to fill the assistant news director's job. Elbert previously worked at WBRC in Birmingham, and WTVC in Chattanooga.
And Alice Main (that's me) moves from producing the 11pm news, to executive producer. I previously produced at WDSU in New Orleans, KTUL in Tulsa, and KJRH in Tulsa.
Tim Glenn joins KOAA in Pueblo/Colorado Springs to produce the 5:30 and 10 pm shows. His most recent TV job was Senior Producer at WTVC in Chattanooga. Before that he spent 4 years at KWTX in Waco.
Appointments at NewsProNet on TVNet (http://tvnet.com):
Michael S. Shoer, Senior Broadcast Consultant McHugh & Hoffman joins NewsProNet on TVNet as President and Senior Consultant, based in Atlanta; Scott V. Tallal, President Advanced Research Services, Dallas, named audience research consultant; Barry Rosenthal, President of B/R Creative Group, Canton, MA, and Dick Weisberg, media marketing consultant and Executive Creative Director of B/R Creative Group named promotion and marketing consultants; Sasha Norkin, senior producer WCVB-TV Boston and Associate Professor of Broadcast Journalism, Boston University, named news production and special event coverage consultant; Marina Angleton, executive producer, special projects KVBC-TV Las Vegas assumes additional role as news series and special projects consultant.
WEEKLY TV NEWS CHAT GROUP
It's on NewsProNet, every Sunday from 4-5 pm Pacific time, to talk about the biz. The web address is http://www.tvnet.com/ne wspronet/newspronet.html