Archive for August 2007

One News Outlet Says It WON’T Use Staged Shots Anymore and A Look Back at How Three Guys Helped Avert a Disaster

August 31, 2007

An article in a British newspaper indicates some British TV news folks will cease to do what’s done on a regular basis by TV news folks: staged shots. The article in The Guardian says one network, in an effort to win back the trust of viewers, won’t use staged shots.  For those not aware of what comprises a staged shot, it’s when the news crew asks the subject to walk down a hallway without looking at the camera, or do something that looks like work or whatever so the videographer can get some cover video for the news piece they’re working on.  It also covers that “cutaway” during a one camera interview where the reporter is either asking a question or is simply looking at the person being interviewed while the camera rolls on the reporter.  Those are all contrived shots and one British network says they aren’t going to use them anymore.

That’s all fine and dandy across the pond but I think TV news, at least on the local level would be hard pressed to do without the staged shots.  The reason: time constraints.  TV news operations have so many holes to fill in newscasts and when they send a crew to a story, they don’t have time to wait around in many cases for something to happen “naturally”.   They need to get the video and go on to the next story.  It’s all about the volume of video and if it takes some coaching by someone on the news crew to get somebody to walk down a hallway a couple of times because the first few times the subject LOOKED at the camera, then by golly, that’s what they will do.  Ask any news crew if they staged a shot and I will bet almost all if not every one of them will say yes.  Yah, in some cases it looks staged but what the heck.  It keeps the producers happy because they got their news hole slot filled which they like, it keeps the desk happy because they got all their stories covered and it makes the news crews happy because they were able to get the story and still have time for lunch.

And an article in the Friday morning Commercial Appeal prompted a flashback for me in news coverage.  It was April 7th, 1994 and I had just returned from a long day of being on the road on a couple of news stories in Starkville, MS.  I had been at the station since around 5am and it was midafternoon and I wanted to go home.  Just as I was preparing to walk out the door, the scanners started going off with something big happening at Memphis International with a Fed-Ex jet.  Producers and the desk looked at me since I was the only reporter still in the building and I was sent to the airport with a live truck to check out the deal.  Long Story Short, a Fed-Ex pilot had attempted to hijack the DC-10 in which he was a passenger and crash it into the Fed-Ex hub/fuel farm at the airport. (I still believe this idea helped inspire the crashes into the World Trade Towers years later).  After attacking the unsuspecting flight crew with a hammer, the badly injured crew was able to wrestle this deranged martial arts expert to the deck of the cockpit and hold him until the  huge and fully fueled and loaded plane could be landed at Memphis.  Landing that plane might not seem like that big of deal but considering the condition of those on board, IMHO it was nothing short of a miracle.  As a pilot, I still marvel at the skill and luck that was in the cockpit that day.

One Sportscast Gone, How Many More to Go?

August 29, 2007

These have to be trying times for sportscasters. Not only have a growing number of these folks seen their time in the local newscast cut, but also since they usually do their thing at the tail end of a newscast, they often have their time cut by producers who wanted to spend more time on a live shot at a fire that occurred 12 hours before. In some cases the sportscast has been cut altogether. Such is the case with WTKR, a CBS affiliate and former NYTimes station in Norfolk, VA. According to a story in the local newspaper in Norfolk, the sportscast will be dropped during the week. Football and perhaps other sports highlights will be shown on weekends and they will do the weekly sports highlight shows. The article goes on to say that (in this case) both the sports guys will be involved in sports during the weekend. What, you are probably asking now, will they do during the week? I’m glad you asked. They will serve as reporters for NEWS. Yes, that’s right, news. I’m sure the news of this is sending shock waves around the country for the sports crews.

This to my knowledge is the first station of the LocalTV group owned by Oak Hill Capital Partners (formerly NYTimes broadcast group) to shut down a local sportscast. Is this trend going to spread to the sister stations in the group, including WREG? I know talking with one of the sports guys a few weeks ago he was lamenting the cuts already made in sports. This news can’t be making him a happy camper at all. Any TV manager type will tell you that sports is WAAAAAYYYYYY down the list when it comes to priorities in a newsroom and newscast. This could be the nail in the coffin of local sportscasts.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see sports dropped at some stations in the Memphis area.  Of course if one station keeps sports, it WOULD be a  great marketing  and promotional tool to  say you are the only place in town to get local sports.

Yah, some sports folks have reason to be concerned.  Afterall more than one person has said “It’s all about the bottom line” these days.  And you can take that to the bank.

Man, That’ll Leave a Mark

August 27, 2007

There are not many things that I encounter on a day-to-day basis that cause me to “bust a gut” laughing, but this one did. It was sent to me by DJ who has perhaps an even more warped sense of humor than I do and that is saying something. Here’s the link. I think what makes this tickle my funny bone is that the reporter is so intense. He’s doing a nice walking stand-up that the consultants and news directors (and I) really like to see. The videographer can’t see this disaster waiting to happen because he or she is blind on the right side. Besides you would think the reporter would reference the scene behind him and in turn see what looks like the street sign in front of him. What I would give to see the video tape right after impact to hear the shooter laughing and the reporter swearing. I also think it’s funny because I’ve tripped over things, stepped in things, had a bird poop in my hair, and had a big bird (ostrich) lean his big old ugly head over my shoulder and try to eat my lavalier mic. A question was raised on whether the video was staged. It could have been. Either way, it made my Monday a little lighter. Enjoy!

Former Anchor in Memphis Found Dead in his Home & the Memphis TV Market Gets Smaller!

August 24, 2007

I first saw this headline in NewsBlues and called my good friend DJ who actually ponies up the money for a subscription. My first thoughts were racing as to who this could be and I think I was even more stunned to learn that it was former WPTY anchor Wendall Stacy who actually lives just about four or five blocks from stately LarkSmith Manor in Midtown. There aren’t many details and what little I could find are on the website of WPTY where WS used to work. I have to admit I didn’t really know Wendall. I know he was originally brought over from Arkansas and was anchoring the weekdays before he and Bill Lunn (now at WMC) who was working weekends swapped shifts. I learned where WS lived by accident. A friend of mine who lived in Oklahoma City was coming to town with a couple of his buddies to attend a concert and he said they were going to be staying at a place in Midtown. He told me to swing by to say hello and when I did, Wendall Stacy answered the door. We chatted just briefly before he went on about his business of playing host. I’m not sure what Wendall was doing since he left WPTY and I’m not sure of what led to his death. I just know I hate to hear it.

And it appears that when the News Directors and GMs in Memphis tell you the audience is getting smaller, it IS getting smaller.  According to DJ and NewsBlues the latest Nielsen numbers shows  that the Memphis DMA has fallen from 44 to 47 with New York being number 1 and Podunk, USA being 250 or whatever.   That’s bad news for Memphis but the good  news is that the Boise, Idaho is growing!  It is indeed an ill wind that fails to blow up some good!

What’s the Big Deal with Somebody With NO Experience Suddenly Anchoring a Newscast?

August 23, 2007

The world as we know it has come to an end!  It’s another nail in the coffin of local TV news.  The business of local TV news has become a joke and a laughingstock.  No one will ever take us seriously again. 

I would imagine those are comments made in TV newsrooms around the country after the airing of the reality show Anchorwoman on Fox TV.  (For those not familiar with it, a former model/Bob Barker Beauty was put into the anchor chair at some podunk station in Tyler, Texas and a video crew followed her around as she learned the news business).   No, I did not watch it and I don’t plan to watch it.  For one reason, I’m not much on reality TV.  Never have been, don’t plan to be anytime soon.  If I want reality, I don’t have to watch someone else on TV, I just go about my life.  As for some news director or GM hiring a pretty face who has no experience other than the fact that she (or he) is good looking, they do it more frequently than some realize.  The most blatant example I personally witnessed was about ten years ago when a ND I worked for hired a woman as an anchor/reporter when her primary experience was doing an overnight 2-minute cut-in.  One of the assistant managers at the time (and he reads this blog) apparently pointed out the woman’s lack of experience.  The ND’s response: But she sure looks good! (or something to that effect).  I think the asst. manager thought the news director was going to let her pass but the ND ended up hiring her.  His rationale: He would send her out with an experienced and seasoned videographer to train her to be a reporter.  That’s what happened and she moved on to bigger and better things for a while.  And this isn’t the first time somebody with no news experience has stepped into an anchor or TV host position.  Wasn’t Andrea Thompson on the TV shows Babylon 5 and NYPD Blues before she  stepped into  an anchor role  at a local TV station and then CNN?  What were Greta Van Sustren  and Catherine Crier doing before they landed spots on CNN.  They were in the legal profession.  How many female anchors were beauty pageant winners ready to promote world peace before they became TV anchors.  And I’m not picking on women here, it’s just that there isn’t a reality series (yet) called “Anchorman” where they take bodybuilding hunks and put them on  the anchor desk.  But I’ve seen that basically done before when former athletes park themselves in the sports anchor chair.  The reality is that TV news wants good looking folks fronting their newscasts.  You won’t find too many aging and ugly folks on TV anymore.  Viewers want people who are generally easy on the eyes delivering their news to them.  It’s also generally cheaper to find a “looker” who will practically work for nothing to get that big break and then move on after a couple of years.

So, the bottom line, the world will continue to operate as normal even if a former model becomes a news anchor.  And I would imagine viewership for local news will continue to drop and it’s not necessarily because of who is sitting at the anchor desk.  The world is changing and TV stations like the one in Texas are doing whatever they can do to attract viewers if they want to survive.

A Momento in Memphis From Former Panamanian Dictator Manuel Noriega, Revisiting the Old Days Down on the River and the Straight Skinny on the AN5 Sat Truck!

August 19, 2007

When I was working as a reporter in TV news, I was occasionally asked if I had ever run  into a really interesting story or interviewed someone who was famous.  I can honestly say I covered a variety of folks who fell into both categories and some had some interesting things to share.  I was reminded of one case this past weekend.  More on that in just a moment.  The story occured around the first year I was in Memphis.  I was anchoring weekend nights at the time and U-S troops had invaded Panama and eventually took into custody Manuel Noriega, the former ruler of Panama.  On this particular Sunday night, the newest hire in the videographer ranks was a guy named Dan Bussell and he was assigned to the weekends.  Dan came to WREG from Cape Girardeau, MO.  (When I had worked there in the early 80s, Dan was an intern.  He eventually became chief photog there and a few years after working in Memphis he departed for the Big Apple, where afer a few years in the market, he was invited to shoot video for CBS 60-Minutes which he is still doing.)  Anyway on this Sunday night, Dan and I were sent to do a story with a solider just back at his home in South Memphis after being involved in the invasion of Panama.  It seems this guy was with the group that stormed Manuel Noriega’s office only to find it vacant.  But he provided some good sound on an international story with the local news peg and we were happy and his mama was happy that her son was making the news. We wrapped up our interview and we were packing up our gear when this soldier told us to hold on for a minute and he left the room.  When he came back he told us that he  and his buddies were in Noriega’s office for just a short time but it was apparently long enough for him to pick up a handful of the dictator’s business cards from his desk.  He then gave a card to Dan and a card to me.    Of course,  Dan immediately had his framed and it’s displayed in his home.  I, on the other hand immediately misplaced mine and figured it was long gone.  Until this weekend that is, when my lovely and talented bride and I were doing some house-cleaning,  moving some books to get ready for a yard sale this coming weekend.  She found the card in a book where I must have stuck it 17-years ago.  The card is going to be framed this week.

Speaking of the old days at the station Down On The River, there was something of a small reunion Saturday night.  It seems former anchor/reporter Paula Haddock and her husband Jim Adams, who now call Denver home, were in town for Paula to cover the tail end of Dead Elvis week.  A few folks were gathering at the home of Jeff Woods, which used to be Party Central just about anytime anybody left one of the stations in Memphis.  Some oldtimers will remember there used to be wall-to-wall bodies at JW’s house when it was party time.  This time, the gathering was much smaller with just a handful of folks such as Doug Johnson, Glenn Carver, Lurene Cachola Kelley and Joe Incardona to name a few.  Others were apparently invited but I guess they couldn’t run with the big dogs anymore and decided to stay on the porch at home.  Trust me, if you weren’ t there, we talked about you and if you were there, we still talked about you.  The time passed quickly and it was probably helped by JW’s seemingly endless supply of adult beverages.  It’s hard to believe it’s been so many years since we were all working together in the newsroom DOTR.  A fun time was had by all.

And from the past, I segue to the future.  There’s been some talk about Action News 5’s new sat truck and what’s going into it when it finally gets up and running.  A confidential source tells me that around mid-September, AC5 should have its new ENG/Sat truck ready to roll.  I’m told that instead of the traditional truck that the equipment will be mounted on a 2007 Dodge Sprinter which means the driver won’t have to have a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL.  And according to my source, while some production gear is being salvaged from another vehicle the Sat equipment is all new.  Hey, if it throws a signal into space and back to the station, that’s what it is all about.  And it gives the promotion department something else to brag about.

One More Mention of Elvis and Thank Goodness for Depressions of the Tropical Type!

August 16, 2007

As we wrap up All Things Elvis here in the Memphis area, some of us forget that the MidSouth is NOT the only place where they are celebrating the life of the King of Rock and Roll.  No, I’m not talking about Tupelo either.  I walked by the TV set which was tuned to MSNBC and I heard the female anchor admonishing the reporter for not wearing some kind of Elvis jumpsuit or other paraphernalia.  When I glanced at the set, I noticed five people, four men and one woman, all wearing jumpsuits of some sort and crooning Elvis songs so I figured it was a live shot from somewhere in Memphis.  It was not.  It was Israel where I really didn’t expect to see (and perhaps people who live there don’t either) Elvis Tribute Artists or impersonators, for those who want to call them what they are.  The male reporter, whose name escapes me, mentioned that on this 30th anniversary of Elvis’ death, “what better place to honor him than in a country known for its resurrections”. (For those who haven’t given it much thought, Israel does have the highest resurrection rate in the world. It’s just one but that’s still higher than anywhere else, at least to my knowledge.)   So, for those celebrating Elvis,  you’ve got a lot of company elsewhere in the world.  And  one final note on this topic.  My lovely and talented bride and I joined her stepmother  last night to celebrate her stepmother’s birthday.  Her stepmother, who is such a delightful person and quite conservative, mentioned in passing that she would like to attend next year’s candlelight vigil at Graceland to see what it was all about.  Maybe it was the fume’ blanc talking but when all was said and done the three of us decided to “make a date” for next year’s vigil.  I just hope it’s not as hot.

And speaking of hot, the heat just isn’t sexy at least when it comes to weathergasms.  I’ve felt so sorry for the people on The Weather Channel.  You can practically seem them salivating at the thought of a depression in the tropics which could turn into some kind of storm.  But all they’ve had recently is heat.  Heat doesn’t have you doing anything but sweating.  It doesn’t blow your hair or make you hang on to something and threaten to blow you away when the cameras are rolling.  It just makes you sweat and sweat and sweat.  Sweating doesn’t make for sexy TV unless you’re not wearing any clothes and ……okay, let me rephrase that.  Sweating doesn’t make good WEATHER video.  So I actually felt sorry for TWC’s Jim “I Love Me Some Hurricanes” Cantore   who was flown to Hawaii for the pending arrival of the big storm and it fizzled.  He looked so forlorn.  Come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen TWC send anyone to Hawaii for storm coverage.  Mother Nature is finally helping just a bit by sending some kind of tropical disturbance to the Gulf off the Texas coast.  It wasn’t much but hey, it beats the heat and doesn’t break anyone’s budget getting there.  Now, if we could just get some rain here in the MidSouth.