This week we celebrate the 29th anniversary of the (original) KTLA Morning News in Los Angeles – the Barbara-Carlos-Mark-Sam version was the highest-rated local morning program in TV history! This show provided me with so many life-long friends, a treasure trove of memories and videos, it brought me a mantle full of Emmy Awards and it bought me my first house and half a dozen cars! A few years ago, I wrote a book about my phenomenal experiences starting up the KTLA Morning News – Personality Driven – The Secret Sauce For Selling News. On the off-chance that you haven’t read it, I’m posting the first chapter here – all about the little show that became a monster hit – completely by accident! Continue reading THE KTLA MORNING NEWS JULY 8, 1991
I just happened to be editing and caught this amazing freeze – a random screen capture from Eye Opener I executive produced in 2015. No enhancements were made. It’s posted here just as it aired. Ty and Brooke are in their element. Know what I see? Continue reading JUST A MOMENT IN TIME…
-CLOSE-UPS CREATE A CONNECTION-
Let me ask you a question. What is it about Britney Spears that transformed her into a legendary superstar?
Is it her voice?
Is it her catchy, heavily produced pop tracks?
Is it because she’s hot and jumps off the TV screen in every one of her music videos and TV appearances?
It’s absolutely essential that I point out to you moments on “live” TV that totally “nailed it” – when all the pieces come together to make an amazing TV moment. The clip I’m presenting today, which I would have given anything to have produced, I’ve watched dozens of times, examining every nuance that makes it so powerful. And I urge you to watch every frame again and again. This is how a director, a producer (to a lesser extend here), and the on-air players come together to create an amazing, incredible, emotional moment. Watch first, then I’ll dissect. Continue reading THIS IS HOW YOU DIRECT “LIVE” TV!
There came a time in my career when I began to recognize that I excel in two areas of TV news – the first is in finding, mentoring, and producing personalities. I’m not referring to newsreaders or prompter-jockeys, but true personalities. In addition to the The KTLA Morning News team, I’ve been fortunate to have worked alongside some of the best news personalities in television. Continue reading PERSONALITIES THAT POP
Doing press junkets can be very tricky for reporters. On one hand, you’ve got a celebrity who has been answering the same questions, over and over again, for every local TV station from Los Angeles to Schenectady. (S)he’s bored and (s)he’s cranky and (s)he’s often judgmental in his/her crankiness. Next there’s the overprotective publicists. They want to ensure you ask questions only about the movie and not about the star’s personal life. They hover right over you, just off camera, during your carefully timed five-minute-and-not-one-second-longer interview. Any deviation from the plan and the publicist shuts down the shoot. And finally, there’s you… waiting your turn for over an hour, jet lagged from the red eye arrival and the early morning screening of the film. You’re just hoping you look decent for your cutaways, praying you ask questions that make some semblance of sense, and hoping they’re fresh and different from all the bigger-name TV news royalty waiting ahead of you in the green room. Thus are the trappings of a blockbuster hundred-million dollar movie studio junket. Continue reading HYSTERICAL PRESS JUNKET HIJINKS!
—CODE 1000’S CAN BE CREATIVE!—
We call it a “Code 1000”. It’s a mention upper management wants you to include in your newscast. It might be a charity event the station is sponsoring that they want you to shoot and mention in a :30 voice-over at 11pm. Or maybe they want you to promote a free flu shot giveaway the station’s part of at the Walgreens down the street. Or it could be something as obvious as promoting a Cheers marathon happening this weekend now that the station has bought the syndication rights to the sitcom. Continue reading A “MUST COVER” IN YOUR NEWSCAST!
NBC’s recent firing of Megyn Kelly was no surprise to those of us who know how to “read” TV News talent. Megyn was incredibly successful on her Fox News Channel program. That show appealed to men, most of them over 60, who were looking for right-leaning pundits hoping to pick political fights with their foes. That’s the essence of Sean Hannity‘s little bully program and the format fit Megyn nicely because she’s better looking than Hannity. In that format, Megyn Kelly shined. But there’s a problem. Continue reading MEGYN’S COLD TRUTH
A year or so ago, I released a book about a TV producing experience that dramatically altered the direction of my life. It involves a woman who has become a very good friend of mine, British medium/clairvoyant Lisa Williams. I discovered Lisa quite by accident when I was searching for characters for reality shows I was producing. It is an understatement to say that Lisa “blew my mind”. Along with her jaw-dropping psychic abilities, she was a made-for-TV talent. Breathtaking on screen. When I shot her pilot in Manhattan, she’d never done any on-camera work before, but her warmth and genuine authenticity grabbed viewers through the camera and didn’t let them go. Continue reading MY LIFE-ALTERING SHOOT
As you move through your TV career – or any career for that matter, it’s important to determine where you set the bar for yourself – despite where the bar is set for the place you work – which will always be lower. I’ve compiled this list of “rules” that I’ve sort of adopted through the years and made my own. Take what works for you and throw the rest aside.
1 – KNOW WHAT YOU STAND FOR
“There’s no need to fear – Underdog is here”.
That’s the catchphrase of the 1960′s cartoon superhero Underdog! He was, sort of, the canine version of superman for the Labrador set. His heroics were often done to impress his love interest, Sweet Polly Purebred, who could never commit. Everyone loves the underdog, which is why the series ran for more than a decade. But an underdog is just as essential and relevant in the realm of morning news. And I learned this first hand.
When The KTLA Morning News first went on the air, we were indeed the underdog. In Los Angeles from 7-9AM, it was us verses the Goliaths of Good Morning America, Today and CBS This Morning. The LA Times called us “the little show that could”. Because we did. We faced off with the three major networks for a slice of the LA morning viewing audience. And on a daily basis, we felt the pressure. We couldn’t book the A-lists guests that the networks did. We didn’t have the million dollar network set, the expensive designer clothes that they wore. And early on, we didn’t have the ratings and we certainly didn’t have the mentality of a “winner”. That title went to Katie Couric and Matt Lauer who ruled morning news for a long time before we arrived on the scene. We were, clearly, the underdog. And we felt it every morning when we hit the air. Continue reading THE “UNDERDOG” CARD
If you work in a newsroom, it’s essential that you understand the psychology that often goes unnoticed between you and higher level managers. That old Left-Brain/Right Brain disconnect is killing creativity in newsrooms and – trust me – it shows on air! Below is a chapter from my recent book, “…Like No One’s Watching: Transform Your Local Newscast into a Hit TV Show!” It spells out the problem and shows how to overcome the obstacles.
Whatever happened to the “art” of the commentary? I’m not talking about those painful “editorials” at the end of local newscasts recorded by the General Manager of the station, and usually advocating the construction of a new sewage treatment plant. I’m referring to news commentaries by newsmen (and women), back before political correctness took hold and turned every newscast into a generic store brand. Continue reading THE ART OF EXPRESSION
Originally Posted 11-01-13
Remember that legendary scene from Sunset Blvd?
One of the most infamous scenes in all of filmdom – about a close-up – and it wasn’t shot on a close-up...not even close. I am no film director. I don’t pretend to be. And who am I to second guess the great director Billy Wilder? Well, nobody, but I’m going to do it anyway. I’m assuming he had his reasons for not shooting Gloria Swanson’s scene about Norma Desmond wanting a close-up on a close-up. Might have been some artistic choice. What he essentially did was have her “walk into” her close-up. Then the music and the visual effects turn dark and grim revealing the monster she is as the scene fades to black. I think it would have been much more powerful to shoot Swanson on a close-up leading up to the line to clearly illustrate that she is deranged. We could have seen the whites of her eyes and the psychopathy of the moment. Yes, in the waist shot, which Wilder chose, we got that impression with her hands dancing and twisting in the air. But the power of the moment is what is revealed in any close-up, and we were denied that moment. The scene faded before the real close-up came. Maybe Wilder deliberately denied us of that moment. Or was he just denying Norma her close-up? Like I said, I’m no film director. Continue reading IS NEWS READY FOR ITS CLOSE-UP?
(Originally posted 09-08-15)
Watching a local newscast this morning, I was horrified when I saw two more TV newsreaders had become infected with a virus that transforms them into sub-human, brainless prompter puppets I call “Setwalkers” – zombie-like news creatures who move from monitor location to monitor location around the studio for no apparent reason other than to “mix things up.” Where this virus first started – ground zero, can’t be pinpointed, but I’ll bet it began festering unnoticed in some small-market station before the infection spread via the airwaves from one newsreader to another.
Occasionally as news reporters or special projects producers, we set out to right a wrong. Perhaps a young mother abandons her autistic daughter because the government will no longer provide special daycare services – and the child is a danger to the woman’s other children. We interview the mother and perceive her and her daughter to be the victims. We interview state or federal mental health care bureaucrats only to discover their hands are tied. We interview the dedicated workers at the special daycare center to find they are understaffed and can’t keep up with the growing demand for their services. We come back to the newsroom and what he we got? What do we put together for the 6? Continue reading STORYTELLING AT ITS FINEST
Booking guests for a right-brain morning show is a little understood art that I’ve had lots of time to practice, because between KTLA and E! News Live, GMA Sunday and World News Now, I’ve pretty much had every notable name in Hollywood & New York in studio, on-set for interviews. And let me go on record as saying – best celebrity guest – appearance after appearance – hands down, Richard Simmons. I would book Richard Simmons over, say, Nicole Kidman, every time – hand to god. Let me explain. Continue reading RICHARD SIMMONS COMES OUT…
Here’s a clear cut example of two competing morning shows – one that “got it” and one that did not. It’s from my KTLA Morning News days. The KTLA lot is located at Sunset Blvd and Van Ness. At that time, the location of KTTV, the Fox affiliate was literally across the street from us, but its entrance was buried in a bizarre location that caused many people to become lost because it intersected with the 101 freeway and there were overpasses and dead-end streets and all kinds of confusion. KTTV had just begun airing Good Day L.A., a light morning show that was modeled somewhat after what we were doing. I think they even had SkyFox up in the helicopter around this time. Continue reading I WOKE UP ON 5 THIS MORNING!
I’ve never told anyone this – only family members know – but I did not attend the graveside services for my father back in 1983. I went to the funeral and church services on that Saturday, but the burial was on Sunday at the same time I was supposed to report to WLWT for my first day as an intern. There was absolutely no question in my mind where I was supposed to be on that day. Continue reading FOR INTERNS ONLY!
It’s amazing to me how job applicants don’t “get it”. It’s true. Most college-educated, pop-culturized, twentysomething millennials, some with MBA’s, are clueless. I have the cover letters to prove it. Just over a year ago, I wrote a “help wanted” ad looking for producer/editor applicants. My bosses at the time were right-brain imaginators who wanted to take everything we do “up a notch”, even ads for jobs at our company. I was completely on board. These were the guys who hired me, so we were totally on the same page. I forwarded my draft to my boss, who then forwarded it to his boss, the CEO. The e-mail reply to me was, “I think you get it“. Here is the infamous ad I wrote: Continue reading SUCKLING THE TEAT OF COVER LETTERS
I was watching a horrible film the other day, Horrible Bosses. In the film’s only redeeming moment, Jason Bateman’s character said something interesting… something along the lines of,
“How far you go up the ladder depends on how much shit you’re willing to take from your boss”.
Of the thousands of decisions a producer makes daily, choosing a lead story for your newscast is probably the most important one. The lead is tricky because it can either suck viewers into the show or turn them off. In addition, the lead is almost always subjective – there is no right or wrong lead. It’s a judgement call. I use three sets of criteria to help guide me toward the best lead, based on all the stories I have available to me. Does your lead story feed the appetities of your viewers? The first is my Lead List: Continue reading IF IT FEEDS…IT LEADS
(Originally posted 11/14/2011)
I’m going to confront, head-on, a subject that has divided America’s newsrooms since its birth in 1996. The Fox News Channel. My statement, which you can quote, tweet and forward to social media sites, comes with a whole bunch of addendums, codicils, riders and supplements, so don’t judge me until you’ve read them all – or you’ll miss the true measure of a really right “Right Brain” network.
“Fox News is genius – a brilliant TV format.”
In 1994, the KTLA Morning News celebrated its two-and-a-half year anniversary with a prime time TV special. We kinda missed the two year anniversary, so we improvised. We rented out the Chevy Chase Theater on Sunset Blvd for the event. It was called the Chevy Chase because he had just hosted his failed late night talk show there. You may know it as the Earl Carrol Theater, The Aquarius Theater when Hair played there, the Hullabaloo Club and at one time, the world famous Moulin Rouge nightclub. Queen For A Day and Star Search were even shot here. Every performer in Hollywood played there. It was dripping with Tinseltown history. But for the evening of February 11th, 1994, it was the KTLA Morning News Theater. Continue reading MY MAYORAL MISHAP!
Several months ago, a producer came to me quite concerned that I appeared to be “unconcerned” about a few technical glitches that showed up on-air recently in one or two of our shows. He said, “I’m a perfectionist and these kind of technical errors can’t be allowed to continue”. He wore the word “perfectionist” as a badge of honor. Almost like I should reward him for being so conscientious. I felt two things immediately, neither of which I expressed. The first was, “Boy, are you in the wrong business”. Television is an art – especially the right-brained lighter newscasts we’re producing. No piece of art is ever perfect. Secondly, I felt sad for him. Sad that he will never be truly happy with any show he’ll ever produce. Continue reading CLEAN SHOWS ARE FAILURES
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. Continue reading HIRING “CLOUD-EE-AH”
I still remember vividly that December night in 1979. The Who was to perform at a concert in Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum. But before it started, eleven fans were crushed to death when the coliseum doors opened. All the concertgoers had “festival seating” tickets, which meant it was a free-for-all for them to race to the best seats. Opening the doors resulted in a stampede as everyone clamored to get through. Continue reading HIS KID’S OKAY
I’ve always thought that networks like CNN and Fox News should have a position such as “Vice President of Teases”. It sounds absolutely ridiculous, but when you break it down it makes total cents (pun intended). Commercial breaks are disastrous for ratings. Ever since the invention of the clicker, now known as the remote, when viewers no longer have to get up off their butts to change the channel, they surf at will. The good news for “live” morning shows is viewers are rarely sitting down watching the show. They’re more likely using it as background noise as they brush their teeth and comb their hair and just let the commercials play through. But all viewers are automatically conditioned to mentally tune out the minute they hear that theme music begin to play, with the host saying something along the lines of “Coming up…the latest trend in swimwear. Stick around.” Continue reading THE TEASE FROM HELL!