Welcome to the PIT List!

I'm a network field producer who also worked in local tv as a line producer and field producer. Over the years, I have had the great fortune to work with super people. Now I'd like to pass along what I know and rant a tad.

"Dear Maggie..." pitlist@gmail.com
I check it sporadically, but I love answering emails, so if you have an issue or difficult person you need help with, don't hesitate to shoot it my way.

Maggie L

Maggie L
One of the rare times I'm in the office

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Time is Not on Your Side

Timing a show is tough. You get thirty minutes or an hour whether there's news or not. And you have to be out exactly on time, not a second earlier or later. Unfortunately, not everyone in your show is concerned about being off on time. In fact, it's probably fair to say no one is.

Let's start with reporters. Insist they stick to the time you give them unless it's approved ahead of time. Make sure you let them know you're willing to give them extra, as long as they get to you early (breaking news obviously has different rules). Make them give you something for that time. Is the mother crying? Flames? Or just more blah, blah, blah? As you work with reporters, you'll get a sense of which ones will make it worth your while and which ones are just too in love with their copy to cut it. If they dump it in your lap and say "I just don't know where to cut," give an evil grin and work your magic.

A lot of times, when someone's writing, they're just too close to the subject to see what can easily be jettisoned. That's why it's always easier to edit than write. But over the years, I've noticed a couple places where you can look for easy cuts. I've heard the advice, tell them what you're going to say before you say it. When it comes to bites, that's baloney. Often the line right before a bite can be cut without losing anything and often, it adds more script to lose the line. Also, I've noticed, towards the end of packages, people start to wander. There will be a real obvious end point and then they just go on for another track or two. Get the red marker out and whack it!

Scripts are one thing. Weather and sports are another. Again, setting guidlines ahead of time can help. Go to the weather guy early and say-- what's it look like? What do you need? Should I put you in the first block? Do you need extra? Getting into this habit avoids suprises. Ask them what kind of cues they need. Some weather guys are amazing-- you don't have to cue them at all and they'll do 2:30 everytime. With others, it doesn't matter what you do and they'll go over. If you have to work with the latter on a regular basis, I feel for you. Time their segments so that you can bring it to their attention after the show. Bring the stopwatch with you.

"2:54? 2:54? I don't give my mother 2:54! You're killing me! I asked you before the show if 2:30 was enough and you said that was fine."

Same thing with sports. Go to them ahead of time and ask if it's a big sports day or not. Be willing to give extra if they need it, but not at the last minute and not at the expense of your show. I used to work with a very talented sports producer who was always over. Eventually we got into a routine so that in the break before sports I'd ask, "If you go heavy, what are you killing?" That way it was no big deal when, suprise, suprise, he was heavy and we killed a page. He knew what was going to be killed and so did the director.

Always leave youself outs. Some producers hide time in their show. I might stuff a little into the goodbye or tosses back, but I found I'd lean on it to the point where it wasn't worthwhile. Kind of like setting your clocks ahead so you're on time, but you always know you have an extra five minutes.

I ended up having a couple stories I called "killables." It's stuff you don't tease that you can kill if you get in a jam. Maybe it's an extra story besides the kicker. Maybe it's a post sports or post weather story. I call it insurance. Ideally, I'd like to have about a minute and a half of these. That way, if all goes well, they live. But ff you have breaking news, or extra anything- you don't have to have a heart attack about where to collapse your show.

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