When I go through the process of looking for talent, I begin by requesting audition reels from all the agents I know and have a working relationship with. I prefer to view every link myself. I don’t want an assistant “weeding out” the good from the bad before I view them because I’m always afraid they’re going to miss something that I see. I also don’t like to watch audition reels with other people in the room. Weird, I know, but I don’t want their one-liner comments or thoughts to distract me from what I’m seeing. I also go through my own “Rolodex” of talent I keep on file, people I’ve seen on other shows or elsewhere who spark my interest. Who knows? Some day I may be able to hire them on a show I’m doing.
That’s the process I went through when I was hiring talent for TVG (the interactive horse racing network which I started with Fox and TV Guide). I had 6 host positions to fill. I put on a DVD of a candidate who had very little on-camera experience. She was a strikingly beautiful blond with an English accent. Now, I usually shy away from hiring especially beautiful women as hosts or anchors. I find that the more beautiful they are, the less personality they are willing to reveal on camera. My theory is – and don’t judge me too harshly on this – they oftentimes seem to expect their looks to “carry them” and they don’t need to try as hard in other performance areas. I also find that male viewers will tune in to check them out, but they won’t keep coming back because these women have nothing to offer beyond their looks. Call me sexist – whatever – but I’ve been there done that – and hiring beauties just because their beautiful usually doesn’t sustain a long-term audience.
Anyway, I was watching this woman’s reel. From what I remember, she was some kind of guest panelist on an MTV show. The host turned to her and said something like, “And what’s your opinion, Claudia?” And without hesitation, visibly annoyed, she jumped off her chair and shouted back, “It’s ‘cloud-ia'” in her Julie Andrews British accent. Boom. Done. Right there, I knew I had to hire her. The way she said those two words was all I needed to know she had the makings of a great on-air personality. We audition her. And yes, she pronounced a few locations and names wrong. But when corrected, she never made the same mistake twice. She took direction beautifully. And although a bit raw, she already had the makings of her own style.
Frankly, it took some convincing on the CEO’s part, but ultimately I hired Claudia (pronounced Cloud-i-a). She co-hosted a live, late-night racing show that would have been deadly boring if she and her co-host did not clique perfectly and kept the viewers coming back. By the end of our first year, Claudia was the most in-demand host at the network. All of the tracks were clamoring to have her make personal appearances because wherever she went, she drew a crowd.
Now remember, I was hiring Claudia to host a sports/entertainment show. That position was a perfect fit. However, I would not have hired her to host an 11pm newscast, say, in Detroit, for a myriad of reasons that are no fault of hers. For one, Detroit is 80% African American. A white girl who sounds like Julie Andrews is not someone relatable to the typical Detroit viewer. It’s not out of the question – depending on the circumstances surrounding the news outlet, but unlikely. More importantly, Claudia had a “free spirit” style that worked brilliantly on the sports show – but would not have translated well to a newscast. As a news anchor, she would have appeared distracted and aloof – two qualities you don’t want in an anchor.
I’ve already given you some insight into how I hire female talent. “Beauty” is a negative for me UNLESS their personality outshines their looks. The key trait I look for in female talent is strength. I like strong women. Strong but subtle. I like women who are in control of the news desk – even if their male co-host doesn’t realize it and assumes he’s the one in command.
In producing various morning shows and news-lite formats, I’ve come to realize that the show, more often than not, revolves around the key female. On one show, we had a male and a female as co-anchors, a male weatherman and a male entertainment reporter all on set together. When I review the chemistry of those four in my mind, and trust me, this was the “dream team” of talent if ever there was one, I can clearly see that on the average day, in the average situation, the female was the center of the show and the three guys revolved around her.
It was something that was extremely subtle. Maybe she knew exactly what she was doing and assumed this role. Maybe it just happened and was something she and the guys never even picked up on. Or maybe it’s the curse of all those psychology classes I took in college and I’m reading too much into it. But there was something there. It was not something I created or produced. It just happened. And it worked.
Now, the tables turned completely when breaking news developed. The male anchor had a very solid news background and was clearly in control when we went off script. They complimented each other in that regard. And because both knew the show worked well on so many levels, there was never any kind of power struggle over who ran the show.
On another program, it was the female who ran the show when breaking news hit. So there are no rules – and as someone hiring talent, it’s up to me to find a balance between the two anchors and make sure they complement each other. It’s tricky and I’m not always successful. But when it works – it rocks!
Back to hiring women. I have this philosophy about women hosts/anchors on television. There are essentially two types. First, there is the type of woman that female viewers at home like, admire, would want to be friends with. She’s attractive (but not beautiful), she’s smart (but not Mensa smart), funny (but not goofy), and a bit self-deprecating (but clearly respects herself). The other type of woman (and here’s where I’m going to get in trouble), is the type of woman that female viewers at home fear would steal their husbands if she had the chance. This woman is loud, shows lots of cleavage, has complicated hair with product and extensions and colors and beads and things. I won’t give examples, but these women are not too difficult to spot all over the dial. And yes, I would and have hired these types of women. There’s definitely a place for them. But, on my show, just not as a lead anchor.
When I’m hiring a female anchor, I am essentially hiring someone who will appeal to the female viewers. Male news viewers are easy and will usually take what they’re given. It’s the women viewers who are the fussy ones. If you don’t please them with your hire, you’re screwed. Female anchors are tough to hire.
Different story for female reporters. For breaking news and general assignment reporters, you want loud, aggressive, in-your-face, I-will-not-be-ignored female types. If this woman can break stories and get access to places the competition can’t, and has contacts that lead to exclusives – lady, you can have all the hair extensions you want! Pretty much anything goes with a breaking news reporter. I
think viewers expect a certain amount of aggression in spot news reporters. In breaking news situations, it’s the quiet, demure, every-hair-in-place type that I am wary of.
I am not a fan of the “weather bunny” type. Nor am I a fan of the sleazy, slutty, check-me-out-at-the-green-screen girl who does weather on many newscasts around the country. My feeling is – if a station or network is going to invest money in a weather person, hire someone who knows and can relate the weather. That’s not to say she can’t be bubbling over with personality, but someone who can clearly tell me if it’s going to rain tomorrow. Lots of weather people have gimmicks. Many have it written into a contact that “Sally must be able to present her ‘Sally’s Score’ on every newscast”. This would be Sally rating tomorrow’s weather as a “2” on a scale of one to ten. Some gimmicks are fine, some are stupid. It’s case by case.
The big issue with weather people is a meteorologist degree. In Los Angeles, the weather is the same every day so meteorologists are not in demand. In the Midwest and the east coast, don’t even apply for a weather job without a meteorology degree. I’m amazed at how so many stations promote their “Doppler” or “Super Doppler” or “Mega Doppler” over their talent. Some stations never seem to learn that promoting their equipment over their talent never works. Viewers don’t care what you call your weather satellite, they just want to make sure Rachel Rains gives them an accurate forecast. But that’s another story.
I’ve shared with you my basic philosophy for hiring female talent. I’ll go into more specifics about their on-camera presence, their anchoring abilities and their look a bit later.