Friday, March 22, 2013

TSTL

I recently discovered a wonderful new acronym that fits our business perfectly. It describes many of the people we interview, a certain demographic, and a few people who work in our stations.

Before revealing the meaning of said acronym, we must first make a stop at the theater, specifically, a horror movie. If you've ever seen "Scream" you know the rule: every horror movie has some gorgeous babe who's gonna get sliced and diced because she's simply an idiot. She wanders into the dark basement where we know the killer is lurking, some woman in the theater yells, "Don't go down there!" or "He's right behind you!" and before you know it she's been hacked up with a machete. Invariably, someone in the theater will mutter, "She deserved to die. She's an idiot."

Take that concept to romance novels, the source of the acronym. Apparently those who read this particular genre have a term for a character who's a lot like the girl in the slasher flick. Despite all the warning signs, the heroine will ignore them and still run head first into a disaster. One that is deserved because she is.... wait for it....

Too stupid to live.

TSTL.

Sadly, many of these people are appearing on television, night after night. Even sadder, people are tuning in to watch them.

Earlier in the week I was bombarded with promos for a show called "Splash" in which "celebrities" (actually a bunch of has-beens, with a hot babe thrown into the mix) would dive into a pool. I'm thinking, "Who the hell would watch this?" I felt certain this would be a ratings bomb.

Nope. It did very well. The general public apparently wants to watch people whose fifteen minutes of fame expired years ago swan dive into a swimming pool.

Then I noted that the hottest cable show features a bunch of ZZ Top lookalikes living in a neighborhood in which banjo music would seemingly accompany any canoe ride. Again, "Who the hell would watch this?"

Which brings us to the news business. I hate to admit it, but the consultants may have been on to something twenty years ago when they told me, "You need to write for a seventh grade level."

People often ask me, "Why do you network people always interview some toothless idiot who hasn't had a bath since the Bush administration?"

Because those who are TSTL always want to be on television.

I admit I've put my share of crash test dummies on the air over the years, but lately it's getting worse.  And maybe that's why ratings for local news have swan dived. We put more idiots on the air, who appeal to idiots. Morons may be good for comic relief, but if we want to cultivate an intelligent audience, we need to put more smarts into our product. The man in the street who can't spell IQ might be entertaining, but the long term result is that newscasts are turning into reality shows.

And most intelligent people can't stand reality shows.

Advertisers love the demographic that features well-educated people with good salaries. That's why some "intelligent" shows without spectacular ratings often command top dollar for ad space.  Smart people who make lots of money are a good target audience.

So the next time you get a ridiculous sound bite from someone TSTL, think twice about including it in your newscast. It might provide a laugh, but in the end you won't be laughing when the news business turns into full time reality television.






Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Success defined: A year ago it was the job you desperately wanted; now you can't wait to get the hell out

If you look up the word "success" in the dictionary, one of the definitions goes something like this: the attainment of goals.

If you ask someone in the television news business if he or she is successful, the answer you get might depend on the day.

I've seen this scenario dozens of times: Person begs for a job, wants it desperately. A few months later that same person has turned into a newsroom grouch, sending out tapes by the bushel, desperate to get out. You get the mental picture of the guy hitchhiking by the side of the road, holding a sign that reads, "Anywhere but here."

So what changed? That person's definition of success.

When you're just out of college, getting that first job makes you feel successful. A year later, when you're watching others in the newsroom move on, you feel like a failure. Same person, same job, but your mindset has pulled a 180.

Or does this sound familiar? Reporter working in small market wins all sorts of awards, does a kick-ass job. But because those awards and good work are done in Palookaville, the success is the proverbial tree falling in the forest. The reporter feels like a failure, even though she's doing wonderful work. The stars haven't aligned for her, and they no doubt will, but at this moment in time success feels like it's a million miles away.

How about this one: Reporter has good job in a decent market. Likes the station, the ND likes him. Lives in a nice place. Feels good about himself. Hits 25th birthday and all of a sudden he feels like a failure because he hasn't reached a certain rung in the ladder by this landmark birthday while others have moved up. Yesterday a success, today a failure.

And then there's one of my best clients. Due to a quirky contract situation, this incredibly talented individual is between jobs. This reporter's work is stellar, off the charts great, and his tape has resulted in many interviews at big stations. I have absolutely no doubt he will have a wonderful career and some ND will snap him up shortly, because this guy is everything you want in a reporter. But because the timing hasn't been quite right this reporter is doubting his abilities. A month ago he was knocking out world class packages. Today he's waiting for the phone to ring. A month ago, feeling successful; today not. Same person, same talent. The phone will ring shortly, he'll be back on the street and feeling like he has the world by the tail. But right now I want to reach through the phone and tell him he's the same guy I talked to a month ago, a very successful reporter with an incredibly bright future.

Everyone has a different definition of success, and it often changes as we get older. And along the way we all hit bumps in the road. It doesn't change who we are. If your talent is still there, so is your future. Just because destiny's timeline doesn't coincide with your own doesn't mean you're not a success.




Monday, March 18, 2013

Game face

I've likened the process of negotiation to a car dealership, a poker table and a chess game. The absolute worst thing about this career is the part where you have to sit down and hammer out a deal. They don't teach you this stuff in college, and, let's face it, creative types aren't well versed in the Jedi Mind Tricks of salesmen. Because that's what a lot of News Directors really are.

But let's get back to poker. You all know the term "tell" when it comes to playing cards. It's a little twitch, a narrowing of the eyes, a hand running through the hair that tells your opponent what you're thinking and what your hole cards are.

The "tells" in negotiating a job in broadcasting aren't that subtle. In fact, for young people, they're often so over-the-top it makes the News Director push all his chips toward the pot before the cards are even dealt.

Example: I remember one young lady who had just graduated and had dropped in for an interview. She wanted a job, any job, and would do anything if hired. She'd sweep floors, take out the trash, make coffee runs, whatever. So pumped during the interview she reminded me of a puppy so excited it wets on the rug. I liked her, so I offered her a job and she practically jumped over the desk to give me a hug.

I didn't even tell her the salary. At that point, I could have offered minimum wage. (I didn't, but that's besides the point.) She played all of her cards the minute she sat down at the table. I could have said, "You'll have to pay me to work here," and she would have said, "Where do I sign?"

While you have to show genuine interest in any job for which you've applied, you must maintain a game face. Be excited, yes, and let the ND know you're genuinely interested in the possibilities. But don't come off as so desperate he'll know you'll take anything for a salary and do anything to get the job.

The same goes for any phone interviews. Let the ND hear your smile, but don't get all gushy like a girl being asked to the prom.

If a News Director knows you'll take anything, he'll lowball you with an offer. If he can't completely read you, you've still got cards to play.