The Cold, Cliches and My New Favorite TV Show

I’ve been reminded the past few days why Videographers are not paid enough. For the past couple of days I’ve been shooting some video for a project I’ve been working on and the temperatures have not been cooperating. Having once been pressed into service as a One-Man-Band or VJ, I’ve had experience slinging a camera. I’d forgotten the enjoyment that comes with it and the headaches that come with it. Yes there are advantages to working as a team and there are advantages to working by yourself. I think too often reporters take shooters for granted, especially when the weather is not cooperating. It can be difficult manipulating the controls of a camera when it’s cold. Gloves can be too bulky to handle the small buttons, so they (the gloves) have to come off. When the weather is hovering around freezing, it doesn’t take long for the fingers to get numb. I once was on a one-man shoot in Cape Girardeau, Missouri where I was sent out for a night shoot of people skating on a frozen lake at a city park. It was close to Zero Degrees Farenheit and the old two-piece Thompson camera I was shooting actually shut down because of the cold. So reporters, if you’re out on a cold weather story, do your photog a favor and buy him or her a cup of coffee while your out. It fosters goodwill and the shooters deserve it. It sure doesn’t hurt to grease the skids there either.
It’s not very often that I blog about a network television show. That’s because I really don’t watch anything from the Big Networks anymore. That is until this past fall when I finally bit the bullet and watched the show Boston Legal. My wife and I now are so hooked on this show that I’m ready to buy the first two seasons on DVD. It’s a combination of outrageous situations and very good writing. When it comes to legal arguments by the good guys (viewers will know who I’m talking about) they are second to none. I wish I could write like the writers on that show. And the writing is fairly topical with part of a show last week focusing on the delimma faced by a doctor in New Orleans who euthanized several bedridded patients in the aftermath of Katrina to this week people on the “Do Not Fly” list who do not belong there. Check it out if you can. In reality, the show would be a nightmare for any person in HR.
And speaking of clever writing or the lack thereof. I ran across a list of cliches’ the other day on Shoptalk. It seems a producer from a Chicago television station put a ban on cliches’ . Looking over the list I think it’s safe to say that if you banned these from local TV stations, you’d never get a newscast on the air. I ran across some of my favorites and as I read them I almost slipped into a coniption as I remember the times I encountered them in copy. I’m guilty of using some of them as well and even the esteemed guru of broadcast writing Mervin Block will tell you some cliches’ are okay. But too often it’s just lazy writing. I’m pasting the article from Word (where I saved them. Pasting them here always puts a bunch of funky symbols in there. I’m sorry but I’m way too lazy to retype them. Enjoy them and then count the number of times you see them in a local newscast over the next week.

Chicago News Producer Hunts Down Clichés
By Mervin Block | Jan. 11, 2007 | More Writing Tips

The Windy City has become a little less windy. The reason: a Chicago station, WLS-TV, presents a 10 p.m. newscast that’s cracking down on the use of a batch of bad words. Not nasty words, but clichés, bromides, redundancies and words that are otherwise objectionable.

The creator of the watch list is the newscast’s producer, Lisa McGonigle. As the list’s custodian, she encourages writers, reporters and anchors at WLS-TV to steer clear of words and phrases on the list. And she also encourages them to contribute bad words to the list, so it keeps growing.

Lisa keeps the list at her desk, and she makes it available to staff members. When scripts for the Ten are submitted for approval, Lisa reviews them. If she comes across any word or phrase on the list, she deletes it. And, if necessary, she replaces it with language that’s acceptable. The list is intended to raise the standard of writing by discouraging what Lisa calls “lazy and formulaic kinds of writing.”

The news director of the ABC-owned station, Jennifer Graves, says her goal is to have the staff produce clear, crisp, conversational writing without clichés or clutter.

When newsrooms elsewhere hear about Lisa ’s treatment of the scorned words, let’s hope they heed that biblical injunction: “Go, and do thou likewise.”

Words on Lisa’s Watch List

The comments in parentheses are Lisa’s. Those in brackets are mine.

adding insult to injury [cliché]

adult’s having sex with a minor (Sounds consensual. It’s not. It’s rape, abuse or assault.)

alarming (It may not be to the viewer.)

also making news (lazy transition) [Everyone mentioned in a newscast is “making” news.]

amazingly (Just give me the facts.)

around the clock (overused)

arson fire (redundant)

as expected [A news-appetite depressant. When I hear it, I wonder who’s doing the expecting.]

as predicted [by whom?]

ATM machine (redundant) [ATM = automated teller machine]

backs to the wall [Cliché. That phrase was used by Sir Douglas Haig, who commanded British troops in France in World War I. He told them, in 1918, “With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.” But so many people have used the phrase since then that it has earned retirement. So has handwriting on the wall. If walls could speak, they’d probably say, “Please stop talking about us.” Remember, walls have ears.]

bad news (Let the viewer be the judge; bad news for some may be good news for others.) [What’s good for Luke Skywalker can be bad for Lucy Streetwalker. Don’t characterize news as alarming, disturbing, shocking, unbelievable—or good or bad.]

batten down the hatches [cliché—unless you’re at sea in a storm]

beef up (trite)

behind bars (overused)

behind closed doors (cliché)

bird’s-eye view (timeworn)

blaze (It’s a fire, period!)

bombshell (for whom?)

brace yourself (Don’t tell me what to do.)

bracing for the worst (Couldn’t it always be worse?)

braving the elements [Going out in the rain or snow doesn’t require bravery.]

breaking their silence (overused)

brutal murder (aren’t they all?) [Ever hear of a gentle murder?]

business is booming (commonplace)

calm before the storm [cliché]

campaign trail [cliché]

canine dogs (redundant) [How about a feline cat? Drat!]

canvassing the area (What’s wrong with “looking for clues”?)

can you hear me now? (If I hear this one more time, I’m going to tune you out.)

caught on tape (Way overused. In this age, almost everything is caught on tape.)

cautiously optimistic [cliché]

child prodigy (A prodigy is a child.) [Not to be confused with protégé.]

clinging to life (banal)

close call (timeworn)

closed up or down (It’s just closed.)

closure (Overused when talking about families of victims. Unless the families say something is bringing them closure, who are we to say what will help them heal?)

combing the neighborhood (Again, what’s wrong with “looking for clues”?)

community alert (not conversational)

complete surprise (Save a word; you’ll get the same effect with just surprise.)

completely abolish (completely redundant)

completely demolished (redundant)

completely destroyed [If something is destroyed, it’s destroyed–completely.]

completely engulfed (Completely is superfluous.)

completely independent (redundant)

completely silent (redundant)

completely submerged (redundant)

continues (If nothing’s new, why should I keep watching?)

controversial (overused) [Many writers use it in the belief that it’ll punch up a script. But so many writers have used it so often that it has lost its punch.]

death and destruction (overused)

death toll (not conversational) [but useful]

desperate search (trite)

disappointing (it may not be to the viewer)

dog days of summer (Overused, unless you live in Antarctica.) [Or in a kennel.]

do or die [cliché]

dramatic (Just give me the facts.)

dream come true [cliché]

electrocuted to death (Electrocuted is dead.) [So are asphyxiated, strangled and suffocated.]

elsewhere (lazy transition)

end of an era [Often used on the death of a prominent person; advice against using it seems to go in one era and out the other.]

exact replica [redundant]

extradited back (Back is superfluous.)

fall from grace [cliché]

fighting for his life [cliché]

final farewell (trite)

final goodbye (overused)

first annual (If it’s the first, it can’t be annual–yet.)

freak accident (unless it really is freaky)

friendly confines (overused)

friends, family and (fill in the blank) are mourning the loss of… (timeworn)

full extent of the law [cliché]

funeral service (redundant) [A funeral is a service.]

gift of life (overused)

good news (Let the viewer be the judge.)

heartfelt condolences (How do we know whether they’re heartfelt?)

heartwarming [and heartbreaking; usually corny]

hometown hero (overused)

hope springs eternal [cliché]

in a family way [cliché] [The word needed is pregnant.]

indeed (superfluous)

in the dark (unnecessary)

in the wake of (overused) [When you mean after, say after.]

king of pop (banal)

lawyer believes (How do we know what anyone believes? A lot of people say one thing and believe another. But c’mon, a lawyer? if a lawyer said only what he or she believed, a lot of clients would be in big trouble.)

literally (too often used in an illiterate way)

little children (some are big; there’s an obesity epidemic)

little Mary, little Johnny, etc. (If referring to children, little is unnecessary.)

local or area hospital (Obviously, someone wouldn’t be taken to a distant or remote hospital.)

lucky to be alive (Trite. Aren’t we all?)

major milestone (overused) [and redundant; a milestone is major]

makeshift memorial (worn out)

making the grade (overused)

manhunt [Try search.]

meantime (lazy transition)

meanwhile (lazy transition)

middle of a streak (How do we know it’s not near the end?)

minor miracle (Either it is a miracle or it isn’t.) [Leave miracles to ministers—and mayonnaise makers.]

mixed bag [cliché]

more questions than answers [cliché]

Mother Nature [Shopworn personification. Also sexist: how about father? Nature alone is all right.]

mourning the death of (timeworn)

mourning the loss of (ditto)

near miss (If it almost missed, doesn’t that mean it hit?) [Isn’t a near miss a bride who was almost jilted at the altar?]

new hope (trite)

new lease on life [cliché]

not your father’s/mother’s/grandmother’s (fill in the blank): auto show, roller derby, you name it

old man winter [shopworn personification]

one-two punch [cliché]

only one death (It trivializes the death; even one death is a great loss to that person’s family)

on the run (cliché)

opening salvo (Who talks like that?) [And salvo is almost always misused.]

pack some patience if you’re traveling today (overused in stories about airport delays)

parent’s worst nightmare (How do we know what every parent’s worst nightmare is?)

path of destruction (overused)

pick up the pieces [another cliché]

pickup truck (a pickup is a truck)

PIN number [redundant; PIN = personal identification number]

political bombshell [cliché]

press the flesh (Who thought of this one?)

remains to be seen [First cousin of time will tell.]

return back (redundant) [so is refer back]

ringing off the hook [cliché]

routine traffic stop (it’s never routine)

safe and sound [cliché]

search for answers [cliché]

senseless crime (do any make sense?)

shocking (Just give me the facts.)

shock waves [cliché]

sigh of relief [cliché]

sign of the times [cliché]

slippery slope [cliché]

sneak peek [cliché]

something went horribly wrong or terribly wrong [cliché]

sounded like a freight train [cliché]

speaking of _________ (mindless transition)

speaking out (overused)

special ceremony (Aren’t they all special?)

struggling to survive [Aren’t we all?]

stunning (Just give me the facts.)

suspect (If police have no suspect, it should be thief, robber, killer, whatever, instead.)

switching gears (lazy transition)

sworn affidavit and sworn deposition (redundant) [If it’s not sworn, it’s not an affidavit or a deposition.]

tense moments (overused)

terrible accident (There aren’t many good ones.)

things (which things? be specific)

this was the scene (lazy)

tie the knot (when referring to marriage)

totally complete (redundant)

traffic nightmare (shopworn)

traffic troubles (troubling overuse)

tragic (Just give me the facts.) [Tragedy, too, is a good word to avoid.]

transplant operation (redundant)

troubling (It may not be to the viewer.)

under fire (overused)

under the knife (trite)

uneasy truths (cliché)

up for grabs (cliché)

upper hand (cliché)

U.S. soil [overused]

very first (very redundant)

very latest (redundant, overused, unnecessary, lazy)

very rare (redundant)

very unique [Unique is an absolute; nothing can be more unique, quite unique, rather unique or very unique.]

very unprecedented (redundant) [It’s worse than that; something that’s unprecedented is a first. Isn’t that good enough?]

wardrobe malfunction (unless writing about Janet Jackson)

war of words [cliché]

weather woes (silly)

welcome news (trite)

went missing (not on my watch)

what a difference a day makes [cliché]

white stuff (It’s called snow.) [Could be dandruff.]

winter wallop (overused and shopworn)

with child [dainty or quaint. The word for that condition: pregnant.]

working feverishly [cliché]

wrong place at the wrong time [cliché]

xx years young [patronizing]

young baby (Believe it or not, it has been used.) [Same for new bride; there are no old brides—except the newly wed in nursing homes.]

your children (Not everyone has children.)

your pet (Not everyone has a pet.)

Even if the words you’re using are not on Lisa McGonigle’s list, keep an eye out–and an ear, too–for words that you think should be on her list.

Although the grampa of good grammar, Henry W. Fowler, condemned clichés, he said writers would be needlessly handicapped if they were never allowed to use, among others, white elephant, feathering his nest and had his tongue in his cheek. Yes, a cliché may be O.K. once in a great while. May be. But good writers pass up clichés and say what they need to say in their own words.

And finally, at the end of the day, this is the bottom line. Oops. Three clichés in one sentence. Sorry. What we all need to do is think for ourselves and not fall back on words and phrases that have been used so often and for so long that they’ve outlasted their use-by date and gone stale.

© Mervin Block 2007

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3 Comments on “The Cold, Cliches and My New Favorite TV Show”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    And let us not forget:

    1. Heading out.
    2. Right now in Memphis.
    3. Winter Wonderland.
    4. At that location.
    5. Currently, live, real time….

    Sorry Joe, I couldn’t resist and yes, Brother Anderson did use the complete phrase: “It’s all about…. timing.” Yesterday afternoon with Todd.

  2. jdoriot Says:

    LOL! Thanks for sharing the article with the cliches…and also for calling to our attention that photographers have a tough job too. I had never even thought about the photographers..just the poor news reporter standing out in the blizzard or rain!

  3. richmonde Says:

    That list of cliches is a word to the wise. Or is it a word in season? Or a timely reminder, or just what the doctor ordered… Anyway, it really hits the spot!

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