Friday, March 11, 2011

Tornado chasing: my kingdom for a giant flashlight

In my network "jump and go" kit I've got everything from trail mix to mud boots, from rain slickers to instant coffee. I thought I had everything for every possible contingency.

And this week I realized I didn't have one simple thing.

So the network sends me out Wednesday night to look for a live shot location with a ton of tornado damage. It's the middle of the night and, as is the case with most tornado stories, most streetlights are out.

So I'm driving around, trying to angle my high beams on various scenes of destruction. The only thing going through my mind is, "I sure wish I had one of those giant flashlights that cops and taxi drivers have."

I guess my prayers were answered as I'd just gotten my Ash Wednesday ashes, since a police car was headed in my direction. I flagged it down and two very nice officers took me on a damage tour, shining their giant flashlight on homes and downed trees. They helped me find a good location, and when the sun came up, it was clear we'd found the right place. And they say there's never a cop around when you need one.

So you can add the "giant flashlight" to your list of things you need in the trunk of your car.

-Travel note that has nothing to do with television: What's with this latest trend of hotels trying to outdo themselves with the number of pillows on a bed? For years every hotel bed had two pillows, just like you have at home. But noooo... now we have to be trendy and have four, five, six, even seven smaller pillows.

It looks great until you go to sleep, and when you roll over your head flops between two of the mini-pillows.

I love having coffee machines in hotel rooms. Steam irons are a great idea. But please, can we go back to just having two pillows?


Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Napalming a bridge: before and after

This week we're getting a unique look at what can happen when you not only burn a bridge, but nuke it down to the molecular level. And this week we're actually seeing the burning and the aftermath, through the actions of two people.

I'm talking about Charlie Sheen and Tiki Barber, the former Giants star who announced yesterday that he wants to return to the NFL after four years away from the game.

Sheen, of course, needs no further explanation here. We're seeing firsthand a man who seems hell bent on destroying his career by trashing his employers and co-workers. There has been a lot of analysis as to whether or not Sheen will ever work again in Hollywood. Time will tell.

But we're seeing what could be the answer in the case of Tiki Barber. For those of you who aren't sports fans, Barber is the guy who played ten years for the Giants and was never shy with his feelings about the coach or teammates. (The fact that the Giants won the Super Bowl the year after he left speaks volumes.) Barber came off as very smart while he was a player, and dipped his toe into broadcasting with Fox News. When he retired, he scored a gig with the Today Show and was a featured player on NBC's Football Night in America. The sky seemed to be the limit, and many thought he'd be the next Frank Gifford.

Then Tiki Barber started throwing bombs, much like Charlie Sheen is doing now. He ripped his coach, his old quarterback, his team. He was removed from the football show. Then he had a well publicized affair with an intern while his wife was eight months pregnant. Not a great move for someone on a show with huge female audience. He was let go by the network and basically became a pariah.

When the Giants opened their new stadium this past fall, Barber was the only former player booed.

Everyone assumes that he's trying to make a comeback since he doesn't have much of an income, has four children to support, and will probably get cleaned out by his ex-wife.

Here's a guy who was a football star in the world's biggest market and had the world by the tail. He can turn around, but there are no bridges left to cross since he's burned them all. When he announced he was unretiring, the Giants waited about a nanosecond before announcing they had no interest in bringing him back.

So you don't need to wait to see what happens with Charlie Sheen. Burned bridges are pretty much the same, regardless of who lights the fuse. You're watching it happen with one person and seeing the results with another.

At some point in your career you will hate a job, or a supervisor, or a co-worker. While burning a bridge might give you instant gratification, it's best to just leave the bridge standing and move forward.



Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Charlie Sheen-isms in your newscast

Believe it or not, Charlie Sheen gave me the idea for this post. Since he seems to have an affinity for the term "Duh!" it reminded me how often I actually say it out loud while watching a newscast.

And if your story or newscast makes me say, "Duh!" then you need to take a step back and look at your writing.

I'll give you a few examples that I've seen in the past.

In a package about a home invasion: "Police say the couple was watching television when burglars kicked in the front door. They were taken completely by surprise."

Ya think?

Wait for it..... DUH!

In numerous packages about gas prices: "Higher prices at the pump mean your daily commute will cost more."


In a piece on the day after an ice storm: "Roads are still covered with about one-to-two inches of ice. Police say that today you drive at your own risk."

Any other times, you may drive like a bat out of hell and if you hit anything it won't be your fault.


And one from the "DUH!" hall of fame: "The man was shot three times in the head. Police have ruled out suicide."

Drumroll, please....... DUH!

No doubt we've all seen plenty of examples like this. It goes beyond stating the obvious... it just makes the viewer laugh at serious stories.

Take the time to really read your copy before it hits the air. If there's anything in there that is so obvious that it becomes funny, take it out.

You don't want Charlie Sheen reading your copy on one of his webcasts, do you?


Monday, March 7, 2011


When I was in college my dad had a crazy idea to rent a beach concession for the summer, and wanted me to run it. I figured hot dogs and the shore would be a nice break from being cooped up in the deli all day, so I was happy with the deal.

Before we opened on Memorial Day the soda man came in to set up the dispenser. He showed me how to connect the CO2 and the syrup, etc. Then he looks me in the eye and says, (picture this with a wicked New York accent) "Kid. C'mere. I wanna show you sumptin'."

He leads me to the ice machine and points at it. "The ice machine is your best friend."

"Okay...." I said.

He takes an empty cup, dips it into the ice machine until it's full, then walks to the soda dispenser. He fills it with Dr. Pepper and shows it to me. "Watch and learn," he says. He takes another cup, filters the soda through his fingers so the ice doesn't escape the first cup, and shows me how much soda is in the second cup. It isn't much. "Da more ice you put inna cup, the less soda you use." He pats my cheek gently with a hand the size of an oven mitt. "Capiche?"

And that day I learned the concept of "filler."

While that old soda trick is still used by restaurants everywhere, the concept of filler has sadly become a staple of the local newscast.

The problem, in a nutshell, is how reporters and producers look at a newscast. I've heard producers say, "I've got a newscast to fill" many times. I've heard reporters complain that they don't have enough information to fill a minute-thirty package.

And if you're giving the viewers filler, you're doing the same thing the soda man did with Dr. Pepper. Not giving the customer, or the viewer, his money's worth.

If you're a producer and you're simply choosing stories based on their length, you're wasting the viewer's time. If you've got a twenty second hole and there's a thirty second story that's the most interesting thing you've got, either edit it or cut something else to make it fit. But don't grab the boring twenty second story because it's the square peg that fits in the square hole.

If you're a reporter and you've got a video poor story, don't just fill your story with meaningless b-roll. Every shot should count. If you only have 75 or 90 seconds to fill, every one of those seconds should mean something. If you don't have video, use your imagination. Have a graphic made, make those good nat breaks a little longer or add more of them. But don't just throw in some boring static shots because you have a black hole to cover and can't think of anything to cover it with.

Viewers get bored quickly, and there are 200 other channels they can watch. They don't need stories that are simply time killers. Make sure every second and every shot is meaningful.