The Producer Page: March 1996

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • The Boss's Job: Do you want it?
  • Live Shot From Hell
  • Producers on the Move
  • Letters to the Editor

  • THE BOSS'S JOB: DO YOU WANT IT?
    by Alice Main (AJMain@aol.com), WKRC-Cincinnati

    "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."

    -Mike Andrews, Executive Producer, WRCB, Chattanooga

    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.

    1. Make sure you know the environment you're getting into. What do they consider news? Do they have a news philosophy you can live with and stand by? Talk with lots of producers, reporters, editors, photographers, make sure they are willing to accept you as their boss and take advice.
    2. Do a background check on the people you'll be working with and talk with the people who've held the job before you. Make sure the Chief Photog is going to work with you and not against you. Make sure the ND gave the last EP the authority needed to do his/her job. Ask the former EP how the producers dealt with their suggestions. How the desk dealt with them. How the photogs, production dept, etc.. Find out what changes the former EPs have made, how long it took to implement and if the change is still happening. Ask how many hours a day they had to work to get the job done. I was doing at least 12 hours a day and getting nowhere. Will you have a desk? A private office to talk with people? (I didn't, so that meant talking in an edit bay, everyone knew what that meant.) Will you have voice mail? Will you get OT or comp days? Will you get a cell phone so you can answer pages easily? Will you have a digital pager or one that spells out information? (You'll move quicker if it's a plane crash than someone needing to know how to spell the governor's name)
    3. Find out the financial situation of your station. You don't want to come into a shop that's going to make producers all of a sudden double up while you're there. Make sure there's enough reporters/photographers, edit bays do to the job. Ask about equipement failures, tape supply, etc... Ask about overtime, is it going to be your job to have zero overtime? Has that policy been there for awhile, is it coming soon?
    4. Are there time clocks? Are people trusted to arrive on time and leave on time? Ask around, I've worked in shops where many people were 45 minutes late, left early and the ND refused to do anything about it.
    5. What exactly is your responsibility? Just watching over newscasts and producers? Working with photographers? reporters? Who's in charge of the desk? Who hires and fires? You want a lot of control and say, but not too much.
    6. Find out where their producers come from and how long they stay. Are they former interns promoted up? Are they from smaller markets? Are they on contract? Or might you lose the whole group. (It sounds outrageous but I was offered an EP job at a station where the 5, 6 and 10pm producers were all leaving within the month and they were going to be starting a mid day show in 2 months)
    7. Make sure the job feels right, because if it doesn't, it may not be. Producers are tough to find and so are EP's. It may not seem like it all the time, but there are lots of jobs out there.

    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. :-)


    LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
    by Scott Libin (libin@poynter.org), The Poynter Institute

    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.

    Beat that.


    ANOTHER LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
    by John Myers (JGBMyers@aol.com), KVIE-TV

    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!


    PRODUCERS ON THE MOVE

    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 tmazza@aol.com.

    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


    LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

    Alice,

    In the continuing OJ Simpson saga my station has covered the phone number for his video tape on all the hand-out video. I don't have a problem with that.. but I do with something that happened in mid-Feb. Simpson was getting into his car on his property, getting ready to go to another round of questioning in the civil suit. The photographers were outside his property, shooting OJ. Simpson held up a sign with the 1-800 number on it. Our station chose to cover the number in that story as well.. even though the lead of the story was that he was holding up the sign. I call it censorship.. What does anyone else think? -Name Withheld


    Alice,

    Thanks for putting together The Producer Newsletter. Besides the special reports you've shared with us, I really enjoy the bizarre, funny, sad and all too real stories submitted from the front lines of the newsroom and control room. I thought you might want to add something else: Real but Ridiculous Names. I had two of them on air just last week and they were the highlights of my nights! So I submit: Tim Burr (a forestry pio in oregon!) and Tagg Euritt (as in tag, you're it!) I know there are a lot more of these Real and Ridiculous Names out there. Shall we share?!

    Janice Torres
    10pm Producer
    KTXL TV-40, Sacramento