RIGHT-BRAIN FRAME OF MIND

Before going into producing specifics, I need to make sure you’re familiar with the right brain/left brain theory of structure and why it’s essential to producing television. It suggests that the two different sides of the brain control two different “modes” of thinking. It also suggests that each of us prefers one mode over the other – one side is dominant. Experimentation has shown that the two different sides, or hemispheres, of the brain are responsible for different manners of thinking. For example, left brainers are logical, rational, analytical, objective, they look at parts. Right brainers are random, creative, intuitive, subjective and look at wholes. In work environments, especially in TV studios, the right brainers are often clashing with the left brainers with no one understanding what’s happening.

I am very much a right brainer. I am on an endless treadmill of creativity. I literally cannot stop doing creative things or I become bored and agitated. My favorite spot in the entire world is my jacuzzi. But even there, I cannot just relax. I’ve got to be doing something – hand-held video games or other activities to keep my mind occupied. I take sleeping pills quite often because I cannot shut off my mind otherwise to sleep. I’m also very introspective – and I feel as though most of my life is lived inside my head rather outside in the world. But that’s another story…

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So when I’m producing a show, it’s all about the creativity. Formats and flow and structure are unimportant to me. And most of the decisions I make come from instinct or from gut feelings. I don’t make logical decisions. I make intuitive ones. Those kind of decisions aren’t back up by anything. In other words, if I want to lead a (news) show with, say, a new study that says hugging people reduces stress and helps you live longer, and I want to put a reporter “live” at the airport to attempt to hug total strangers, logic would suggest that’s stupid and I really should lead with the president’s new economic stimulus package. The competition will lead with the stimulus package – no doubt. The stimulus story is logical and sensible and rational, where as the hugging story is random and subjective. The stimulus is black & white, where as the hugging is in a gray area. It’s much harder for me to defend (to my boss) leading with something in the gray area when there’s a black & white option staring me in the face. And that’s the dilemma we right brainers face daily. Trying to convince left brainers that gray area options are just as valid as options in the black & white area.

Most managers are left brainers. And they should be because successful business are led by left brainers. They think about the bottom line – money. They think about the ratings. They think about justifying their direct reports’ decisions to their bosses. They’re into research and focus groups because those things give them tangible facts to back up their actions and decisions. I can’t back up my decision to lead with “hugging”. There are no facts or figures about it. Just a gut instinct, which I can’t print out to give my boss as tangible evidence that my decision is the right one. All I know is what I feel. And my boss needs to understand that.

Eric Spillman
Eric Spillman

Long story short, I did lead with hugging. It was years ago on the KTLA Morning News. The other stations led with some typical, black & white story. But you know what happened? At noon, KNBC led with hugging. And at 5, both KNBC and KABC did hugging stories – even though hugging was never mentioned in their morning shows. Because we led with hugging, because we owned it, because we took a risk and went with something less obvious, and because we were the #1 show in the market, we gave the other stations’ producers the tangible facts they needed to justify putting it in their shows… “Well, KTLA led with it…”

I hope I’m making myself clear. There are two brain types and each has its own agenda. Me, the right brainer, wants a cool show that takes risks and is always unpredictable. My left brain boss wants ratings which equals cash which equals praise from his boss. But he has to allow me to do my thing so that he can do his. It’s when left brain bosses start dictating how to produce right brain shows that all hell breaks loose.

I’ve had both. I’ve had complete freedom to do my right brain thing – and I brought home the ratings. I’ve also been seriously micro managed which creates a Jekyll & Hyde show, lots of frustration and viewers who aren’t rewarded for continuing to watch.

Sure, 11pm newscasts are left brainer shows – all the way – with maybe a small injection of right brain creativity. Look at the morning network shows. They’re right brain wanna-be shows produced by left brainers. They’re formatted to the second and the talent are horse whipped to stay in the lane. Real right brain shows that fire on all cylinders are few and far between. The original KTLA Morning News, roughly 1991 through 2000, is the classic example. More examples of right brain shows that are produced right are coming up. Stay tuned.

Ray Signature

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