Let’s face it. Every local station these days has access to the same stories as its competition. The only exceptions to that are unique content a station generates from an Investigative Team or from its field reporters and producers who generate exclusive material. That’s why Signature Segments are so essential. They allow you to take those same stories every station has access to – and produce something unique.
Most newscast producers make a half-hearted attempt at best to create signature segments. Oftentimes, they do nothing more than create a title – Around the World in 60 Seconds. They slap on a countdown and read three or four “headlines” in a minute. There, you have your fricking signature segment, Mister Ray. Not exactly. Two problems with that segment. It’s not unique – lots of stations do something similar. And secondly, the countdown clock is a really bad idea as viewers are drawn to watching the clock rather than the headline video. No one’s going to say, “Gee, I gotta watch Action 3 News cuz I love that world headlines in 60 seconds thing they do…”
Signature segments are just as important for “news of record” newscasts as they are for lighter formats. The majority of shows I’ve produced are morning formats, so my examples will be coming from those shows. Here are some of them:
Here’s a unique approach I suggested we try on Eye Opener in Chicago that allowed us to take some average, everyday stories and showcase them in a unique and memorable way. We took lighter, newsworthy stories and compiled them into a segment that looked like an old Newsroom from the ‘30’s. The “Newsreel” became a favorite among viewers and we used it daily. Funny story, one of the bosses I inherited after the company changed management sat me down and said he doesn’t like the Newsreel. “People are spending thousands of dollars on high def TV sets and stereos and surround sound systems and we’re giving them what looks like vintage film!” Translation: left, left, left brain.
- GOSPEL OF TWITTER
Another example. A producer was messing around in the green screen studio with some ideas for how to present celebrity tweets. He had a gentleman on camera reading some tweets, but nothing really clicked. I noticed the guy had a black shirt on, so I took a piece of paper and turned it into a white collar that a priest would wear (told you I was raised Catholic!) Thus, The Gospel of Twitter was born. We had a priest figure reading celebrity tweets.
- WRENCH THE HANDYMAN
Someone once (jokingly) accused me of putting a segment in the show that they felt was “pandering” to our female audience. I replied, “No, I’ll show you obvious and blatant pandering” – and Wrench the Handyman was born – featuring underwear model Eric Coak as our hunk of steel. Wrench preferred to work shirtless. Weather gardening, doing simple car repairs, or replacing an air conditioning filter, Wrench was working in all his glazed glory.
When I ran E! News Live, we often parodied popular shows – like this cold open making light of The Bachelor – who happened to be a guest on that day’s show. The show opened with him having to choose between Giuliana and Patrick over who will be his co-host for the show. Giuliana got the rose.
- MOVIE REVIEW
Do local newscasts run movie reviews anymore? They would if they were presented like what producer Stephanie Glenn and reviewer Myreah Moore came up with for E! News Live! Myreah presented movie reviews with a ‘tude!
- SATELLITE TOUR SPYING
Some signature segments just accidentally happen on the air. At KTLA, we often did satellite interviews with celebrities. These are called satellite tours where every five minutes, a celebrity talks to a different host in another city – a quick way for them to promote their new project throughout the country. We did a satellite tour once with Matt Lattanzi, an American actor who was starring in an Australian soap opera. He was coming to us “live” from Australia. The interview went nicely as planned, but once it was completed, the director in Sydney left the picture and audio on the bird, so we just kinda took it and continued to watch what they were doing “between” interviews. This is a perfect example of “voyeurism TV”, and we made it a regular segment whenever we did satellite tours – until studios caught on and insisted directors put up bars and tone between live interviews.
- WINDOW SHOPPING
At KTLA one morning, I was looking up at the feed monitors. I noticed the photographer in the chopper had directed his camera to people working on the top floors of the U.S. Bank Tower. That’s how Window Shopping became a classic Morning News Signature Segment. We would watch people fifty stories up working, talking or just waving to the camera.
- ON A SIDE NOTE…
It astounds me how local news producers have absolutely no idea what to do with their news helicopter. If there’s a breaking story, sure, it’s overhead for pictures. Maybe the 6PM newscast uses it for an unexpected tie-up on the freeway. But after that one hit, boom, the thing’s gone. A missed opportunity flies right out of your life. Buh-bye.
Local newscasts, by and large, are incredibly claustrophobic. It’s all about the studio and the only times we go outside are for reporter’s live shots and maybe during some weather graphics. The producer should be bumping in and out of every break with “live” beauty shots of your town. You’ve got to show me (the viewer) stuff going on around the city, whether it’s people catching a bus or a cop pulling over a speeder or a cow grazing in farmland. You absolutely must show off your town at every turn. That’s every bump in and out. I don’t care if it’s footage from the chopper, from your live crews, from your traffic cams, stadium cams, airport cams, whatever. It has to be “live” with a big “live” font on the screen. Take me outside.
Aside from “live” bumps, there are amazing uses for your chopper throughout your local newscam. Don’t talk to me about how much it costs! If it’s up in the air, use it! Experiment.