The Producer Page: September 1995

IN THIS ISSUE...

  • I Can't Believe he/she Said That on the Air!
  • Live Shot from Hell
  • Local TV News on the World Wide Web
  • Relevance (on writing)
  • Hire Me

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

    During a frightful heat wave in our city, one of our reporters was sent out to a beach to see if she could find people beating the heat. When it came time for her live shot, the anchor said "So, Rita, what are you doing to beat the heat?"

    "Rita" (not her real name) responded thusly: "Well, Bryan, I'm wearing a very light dress ... and I'm not wearing panty hose."

    Even for our newsroom, that was a lot of information.

    Another Anonymous Contributor

    "Senior citizens are shacked up this weekend at Concordia College."

    Note: This aired in reference to an elder hostel weekend retreat. Anchor didn't know what "shacked up" implied.


    TRAGEDY/COMEDY

    Scott Libin (libin@poynter.org) of The Poynter Institute for Media Studies reminded me of something I heard on the air in this market. One of your readers reported an exchange on a competing station:

      REPORTER: "a father is charged with murder tonight after leaving his 5-month-old baby locked in the car during the sweltering heat wave... "

      ANCHOR: "That's a really sad story. I sure hope the little girl pulls through."

    This summer, on a story about a similar tragedy, an anchor here said that a child left in a locked car died of "hypothermia." Not likely, as that would mean the child froze to death. The difference between "hypER-" (meaning "over, above, or beyond") and "hypo-" (meaning "below or beneath") can be pretty significant, but dictionaries help only if you use them. Here's a really radical approach: Stay away from medical jargon entirely, unless you look it up and define it for yourself and your viewers.

    On a (slightly) lighter note, here's one I didn't witness myself, but heard from a credible source about a startup news operation: A reporter referred to a home-made firebomb in a bottle as a "mazel tov cocktail." Always a hit at those festive occasions.


    WELL, AT LEAST IT WASN'T ON THE AIR
    Anonymous Contributor

    A reporter was about to do a live shot on a prostitution crackdown and asked, with all seriousness, "Is it OK to use the phrase 'blow job' on the air?"


    BECAUSE PRODUCERS ARE PERFECT AND ANCHORS ARE NOT (Well, it is our newsletter, after all! ;-)
    Anonymous Contributor

    The one and only anchor goes from the third story to the bump at the end of the A block. She gets the deer in the headlights look when I tell her which story to go to next instead of the bump. She manages to get through the rest of the show okay.

    I go to the studio to see what the deal was, knowing the stories she tried to skip came down to the set about five minutes before air separate from the others. They're all there, at the bottom of her scripts.

    I ask: "What was the problem? You had everything right there." Answer: "They weren't the same color, so I didn't know what to do with them."


    PRODUCERS' TRICKS AND TIPS
    by Jim Doblin, Executive Producer, WIBW-TV Topeka (JDoblin@aol.com)

    I'll pass along one little producer's tidbit I've come to learn over the years. NEVER PUT BANNERS ON ANYTHING (if you want the show to work). We usually do not use banners except for special occasions. Once, we had three stories all relating to the location selection of a major aircraft manufacturing plant. We had the first story on which city got the plant, the next two on two losing cities. I had the production boyz make special banners with airplanes hauling signs behind them like you see at the beach -- and had the reporters lay extra pad to wipe. Everything's cool. Then we hit air. The tape loader in master control loads the tapes incorrectly so the stories that roll aren't only out of order, they are WAY out of order as in the last story goes FIRST! Suffice to say it sucked, and I will NEVER, NEVER use them stupid banners again.

    One other tidbit (true story): During the height of Operation Rescue in Wichita (a solar system away from Topeka), I had a viewer who was obviously and fanatically pro life, ask me "Why don't you just show an abortion on TV?" I replied without thinking, "Haven't you ever seen our six o'clock news?"


    THE WORST NEWSCAST
    by Don Ennis, 10pm Producer, WFTS, Tampa (Dse5@aol.com)

    Got to be the night (not at my current station) the lead missed its slot and the anchor decided to ignore IFB instructions on where to go next. He thought he was "saving the show," but the second story tapes weren't ready, and the live shot wasn't tuned in. He threw to the scriptless, tapeless SPORTS anchor who was just sitting up there as window dressing for the opening bump shot and had been terrified of moving during the meltdown. When the ball was tossed right back at him, our beloved anchor simply looked into the camera lens and said to ME: "Well, where would you like me to go?" You can guess what I wanted to tell him. Instead, I opted for, "TOSS TO A BREAK!" Not one of my favorite nights, but oh did it teach me a lot. And the anchor and I had a nice, long chat after the show, about producing from the anchor desk.


    THE BEST NEWSCAST
    Also by Don Ennis, 10pm Producer, WFTS, Tampa (Dse5@aol.com)

    The night the Hurricane visited Florida and ABC News called to say, "Hey, mind if we excerpt your newscast on the network tonight?" Nah, I didn't mind.


    LIVE SHOT FROM HELL
    by Kim Insley, Anchor/Producer KARE Minneapolis (PLent48049@aol.com)

    We do an hour show every day at 9 a.m., KARE 11 TODAY. Kind of like the last hour of NBC's TODAY show, which we follow. Early in August, we were live for the hour at a huge outdoor art fair in town.

    At exactly 9 a.m., my co-host and I looked up and saw what appeared to be a monsoon approaching. My co-host doubles as the weather forecaster for our 6 a.m. show. Neither of us had ever seen a cloud like the one approaching. It looked like a wall cloud, which produces severe weather and tornadic activity.

    Did we flinch? Nope. I can't say the show went as planned. Part of our set blew down. A ladder nearly fell on the crew. Torrential rain fell. Why we didn't lose our lighting or cameras, I don't know. We did what we could with the art show, cut back to the station for severe weather updates, and also to another live shot for a breaking news story which resulted in the closure of a major freeway.

    Somehow, we got through it all. And, yes, at 10 a.m. when our show went off the air, the rain stopped, the winds calmed and the day eventually cleared.


    WOW, METEOROLOGISTS HAVE PROBLEMS, TOO?
    by James Aydelott, Meteorologist, currently at KAKE Wichita, soon to be at KOTV, Tulsa (jaydelott@aol.com)

    #1: October 1992, WSAV, Savannah, weekend news, break two, weather is next. I'm in front of the board, as the director checks the clip. "Hold out your hands," he says, and I comply, stretching each arm out sideways with a very apathetic look. Then it happened, don't know how, don't know why. In the middle of a BC headache powder spot, just as the actor in the commercial grasped his head in agony, HE PUNCHED ME UP, LIVE, FOR 10 SECONDS! I saw the tally light go on, and just seconds later, heard from every headset on the floor, the director screaming, "Oh, %*^# !" I looked like a picture of Jesus on the cross, my arms outstretched, but wearing a suit. Those were the longest ten seconds of my life. As he finally rejoined the cart machine, the spot was just going into the little BC jingle at the end of the commercial. It almost looked as if the whole scene belonged in the spot.

    #2: WSAV, again, 7:25 Today show insert. I was hurrying to wolf down some powdered donuts before the cut-in started, when it happened: The hiccups! First through the news segment, then the spots. The hiccups were still there. Sure enough, every fifteen seconds through the 1:30 weather cast, they happened. "It's a warm and humid morning acHICKross, excuse me, the Coastal Empire, it's already 80 degHICKrees, excuse me, outside.... Plenty of sunshine later this afterHICKnoon, excuse me." The station even got a few phone calls wondering if I was going to be all right.


    LOCAL TV NEWS ON THE WORLD WIDE WEB
    by Alice Main, Producer, WKRC-Cincinnati (AJMain@aol.com)

    The World Wide Web is either a brand-new network, or a point-and-click newspaper, or an interactive information source, or a vast, colorful, entertaining, expensive, and utterly pointless waste of time. Or perhaps it's all of the above, depending on where you point your browser. Local TV stations are following one another onto the Web, but the information quality, timeliness, depth, and presentation they offer are as unique as the stations themselves.

    At WFAA in Dallas-Fort Worth, producer Walt Zwirko maintains the station's home page. It began mainly as a repository for scripts and information relating to my weekly Computer Corner news segment, and is still not a "full-service' website," Zwirko explains.

    The page, accessible at http://rampages.onramp.net/~net, can link the user with weather and lottery information, the Computer Corner files and with two sister stations' home pages. You can send e-mail to the station, or to ABC.

    But there's no news...yet.

    There are ongoing internal discussions about what the future will hold for our place in cyberspace. As the World Wide Web becomes more and more visible (especially with the impetus of the Windows 95 and the Microsoft Network attracting new users), the home page will be seen as something more than the one-person, very part-time operation it is right now at our shop," says Zwirko. The cost for the account with the local server is less than $40 per month. Still, even a part-time operation means commitment. Zwirko says he spends several hours a week maintaining the page and adding new features and answering electronic mail.

    In Detroit, investigative reporter Mike Wendland started WDIV's home page about six months ago. Point your browser to http://www.wdiv.com to find live Doppler radar, updated weather checks, news headlines, entertainment links, a virtual tour of the station, and supplementary special reports on some news investigations and consumer segments.

    When the two daily newspapers went on strike, we dropped everything and added all sorts of news links and new data to help our viewers find alternate sources of information," says Wendland.

    Thanks to Wendland's expertise, the cost invested so far has been under $1,000. He is getting a lot of positive feedback on the page.

    I've had a dozen or so other organizations ask me if I'll help them with theirs. Maybe I should start a freelance web consulting biz!"

    Also on the Web for the past six months: KPIX TV & radio in San Francisco. Tony Russomanno says its most popular feature is the weather camera shot, automatically updated every five minutes.

    A remote-controlled camera on the top of the Fairmont Hotel offers great pictures of San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, downtown and Twin Peaks. Our logs show the page has been accessed by users from every nation on Earth that has Internet connectivity," says Russomanno.

    The station recently added a message board, and two weeks ago a live chat area debuted, which is being used to run conferences during radio call-in shows. TV news scripts are due any day now and Russomanno says the scripts will be presented in a very different way. The home page can be accessed at http://www.kpix.com.

    KJRH in Tulsa has been on the Web for less than a month at http://www.kjrh.com

    You can see live updated pictures of the city, the newsroom and Doppler radar. There is an impressive list of links to other sites of interest to Tulsans. And there is easy access to news scripts. News Director Peggy Phillip says getting it online was a team effort. "We had somebody in every department who was interested in the whole Web phenomenon. So we set up a Web task force. We wanted to make sure it didn't have too many graphics so it wouldn't be too slow, or too few so it wouldn't be too boring." Station engineer Steve Epps put it all together in about 60 hours.

    For more on what works well in a home page, see Josh Greene's article below. And Skip Wood writes about the regional network his station uses, instead of the Web.

    One last note: KHON in Honolulu is at http://www.khon.com/news/menu.html This website has a fantastic search page.


    MORE ABOUT TV STATIONS ON THE WEB
    by Josh Greene, Greene Productions (JoshGreene@aol.com)

    There are two major reasons your viewers will look at your Web site. These reasons are information and curiosity. A viewer will look at the page because they have seen promos on the station or heard about it from someone. If your page consists of pretty pictures of your anchors and some programming information, they'll probably look at it once. They know what the anchors look like, so while on-line pictures are cool, they aren't worth the time it takes to download at 14.4. If they want programming information, and yours is bland, they'll just look in the paper instead.

    What will keep bringing viewers back to your page? News, news, news. If every time a viewer looks at your page, there is up-to-the-minute news, they will keep coming back. I've got the ESPN page bookmarked (espnet.sportzone.com), and during the day, I'll occasionally check the page to see developments in sports. It's a lot quicker than waiting 30 minutes during a newscast, which may be on at an inconvenient time or may not be something I have time for. It also lets me stay on top of breaking news.

    If you're going to have news on your Web page, make sure you can cover breaking news. The other week, a Binghamton cop got shot. At 6:30, the newscasts went off the air with a live picture of the house where the gunmen was holed up. And, there was no way to find out what happened till 11:00. Four and half hours with no way to find out what was happening in the biggest news story (we're market #133) of the month. A producer typing into a home page could have had updates posted every ten minutes for the next four hours and earned a lot of loyal viewers in the process.

    I'd like to make an offer to readers of the newsletter. As a former TV person, I'm willing to answer your questions about the Web and the Internet through e-mail. I'll e-mail you an answer, and also post the questions and answers ( without the name of the questioner) on a web site which will be available starting September 1.


    WEB, SCHMEB
    by Skip Wood, KXJB, Fargo (Skip@pol.org)

    Our station only has a mention on the WWW, but better than the Web, we're on a slick regional network. After all, we don't need national reach. The local net has all the local governments, schools, colleges, social service organizations, employment agencies, charities, and many businesses participating as providers of information.

    The presentation is almost as slick as the national on-line services. It also supports message boards and e-mail. Best of all, basic service of half an hour a day is free to the public, so participation is blossoming. For about $5 a month, users get 30 hours a month (two hours a day) and Internet e-mail and newsgroups. For our station, the cost as provider is only $100 a month. The size of our area is essentially unlimited. We have countless files that include FAQs, reception problems answered, show information, network addresses and phone numbers, staff profiles, station news, promotions, station history, etc.

    We also have message boards on home video and sports talk. We may add an advertisers' club as a "value added" service that gives a spiel about our advertisers. Once all the files are in, maintenance time hasn't been too bad. Best of all is the Internet e-mail -- phone and fax expense savings, fewer phone calls, and it gives us the chance for a warm exchange with the public when we're not harried with other matters.

    In other words, good PR. If anyone wishes to learn more about this net, they can log in by calling 701-234-0067. This won't be the slick graphical presentation, but it still works, and you can always download the fancier software. You can also e-mail inquiries directly to prairie_online@pol.org.

    I think such regional nets will catch on big. The ability to e-mail the police, the city and businesses is really useful.


    FROM NEWS TO FILM
    by Marc Lorber (TVMovies@aol.com)

    Have you ever produced, written or developed a story and thought to yourself that it could be the basis for an interesting television film? If so, then we might be able to benefit one another.

    My niche is developing and producing such stories here in Los Angeles. In addition to numerous projects I have set up currently, one of my earlier films just won its time period when it re-aired on NBC June 19. It was entitled Cradle of Conspiracy, the true story of a young woman sucked into a black market baby brokering ring. And another film begins production for ABC in December with Jennie Garth in the true story of a young couple who must survive in the winter wilds of Alaska before they're rescued.

    I'm looking for stories before they break nationally, or ones which are developing (and might thereby yet lack an ending), and even those which never quited gelled, but in every case are compelling enough for a network to say, "Yes, it warrants a two-hour telefilm adaptation."

    I am not seeking exclusivity in any medium other than developing the story together for a film. Initially, you're free to keep all specific information to yourself. Via e-mail or phone, all I need to know is a brief synopsis, outlining the story and its principal characters. If I'm interested and feel we can be successful with the story then I'll contract for your further assistance, research and cooperation. I'll then write a film treatment if necessary, and be responsible for pitching it to the networks. If we're successful, along the way you can receive option payments against a production payment when and if a film is produced, in addition to a credit (usually in the form of Associate Producer). This won't make you rich quickly, but think of it as an ancillary market for your work.

    If you're interested, e-mail me at TVMOVIES@aol.com.


    HIRE ME

    My name is Laura Smith and I'm searching for a job as a Special Projects or Executive Producer. I have 4 years experience as a line producer, including 3+ years at WFLA in Tampa, where I was responsible for several shows, including the Morning Edition and Live at Five. More recently, I've been field producing longer-form, issue-oriented stories for a national PBS program. I also have extensive experience packaging stories for commercial news outlets and I know how to operate a KU uplink truck. I'd like to stay on the East Coast, but I have an open mind. If you're interested... call or, better yet, e-mail me!! (904) 375-0880 or g8orbait@aol.com.

    Bilingual Hispanic seeks news producer position. M.A. degree, experience in the US and Latin America, contributor to CNN for two years in English and Spanish. Experience as executive producer, special assignment reporter and in management. Excellent leadership and people skills. Contact Hena at cuev0002@gold.tc.umn.edu


    COMPROMPTER'S ELECTRONIC NEWS ROOM

    There's been strong interest shown in an on-line user group for Comprompter's Electronic News Room. If you wish to be included, e-mail to KX4@pol.org.


    RELEVANCE
    by Joe Barnes & Gary Lindsey, Joseph Barnes & Associates, Inc., Creative Media Consulting (c) 1995 (jbaconsult@aol.com)

    We are human. We all need coaching and reminders. Here are some very important reminders to keep by your desk and look at every week. Remember: Viewers do not have to watch. We are asking them to go out of their way.

    Relevance: How does the story affect the viewer? How will it benefit the viewer?Why would the viewer care about the story? Make this information the lead-in of the story.

    Writing: Are you describing the event or shooting, writing and editing in a way that helps me experience the story/event or are you describing it to me?

    Video and audio: How will you make this story interesting? How will you put a face on the story? How will you bring the story to life? Is the video interesting or loaded with dry, institutional shots? Use good natsound and/or pictures that offer texture, feelings, and emotion. Aftermath, building exteriors, news conferences, hearings and real estate are not good, interesting television.

    People: Are the people in the story an essential part, or just tacked on like an MOS?

    Length: Don't put too much in the story. Keep it focused and to the point. Respect me. Don't waste my time. Is the writing clear, to the point and easy to understand?

    Why Should I Watch: Why is the story in the newscast? Because it happened? That's not the right answer. Because it's live? That's not the right answer. Find the right reason it's in the newscast and make sure that's what you concentrate on.

    Lead: Know how your lead is coming out. Is the lead story what you want and what you expected? What's missing that you can put into the lead? Does the lead sentence of every story tell me how I'm affected, how I'm going to benefit, or why I should care?

    Is It Interesting: What specifically are we doing to make it more interesting? Don't waste my time. Get to the point. Use interesting, descriptive language. Keep the copy short and to the point.

    Am I automatically running this package because we shot it? Is the story, and the elements we got, still worth that much time to the average viewer? Talk to the reporters. Don't force a package that doesn't meet the guidelines. Find something more interesting and relevant to my life.

    Energy: Does the newscast have a sense of energy and vitality in story length, number of stories, length of stories, pacing and production techniques and anchor delivery?

    Teases: Why should the viewer watch the story? What's the specific reason to watch? What is the one best reason to watch the story? Are you showing me people or dry, wallpaper, institutional video? Is your copy engaging or clinical? Avoid the "more-on" phrases: More on, we'll have complete details, we'll have a full report, we'll have a live report, give me a specific reason to watch!


    P.S. Special thanks as always to my Print Journalist Husband, who offered his copy-editing skills to this issue and who believes TV news producers are completely clueless about the proper use of commas.