REVIEW: FOX 19 NOW

  • SHOW: FOX 19 NOW Cincinnati, WXIX, 7AM, Raycom
  • SHOW DATE: November 2, 2015
  • ANCHORS:  Rob Williams, Kara Sewell
  • WEATHER: Frank Marzullo
  • TRAFFIC IN STUDIO: Denise Johnson
  • LIVE REPORTER: Dan Wells 
  • LIVE REPORTER: Megan O’Rourke
  • FULL DISCLOSURE: I grew up watching Channel 19. In fact, I remember its first day on the air. Recently, I’ve emailed the GM and the new ND about my interest in helping them fix their morning show. The conversations were pleasant but didn’t go anywhere.
  • LIVE STREAM: Here

11-5-2015 9-28-39 AMHere’s my issue with Fox 19 Now: it’s a prime piece of airtime opposite the network morning shows in a medium-sized market, it’s got a decent operating budget and solid talent, its available tools for news coverage are on par with its competition, it’s got the resources of the Fox News arsenal behind it and yet it’s a missed opportunity – through and through. It doesn’t deliver on any level. It has everything it needs to become a runaway hit – except a vision.

The July book has the show #2 behind GMA from 7-9am.  I’m guessing the conventional wisdom is to leave things alone – it’s paying for itself, if it ain’t broke…  Well, somebody’s got to break it. There’s no life to the show. It just doesn’t come alive. Fox 19 Now should be the “hit” morning show, the place in Cincinnati every local wants to be on and every celebrity stops by when they’re in town. Bands should be performing, chefs should be cooking, adoptable dogs should be running around the studio, text “beeps” should be heard from the hosts smartphones –  the show should be humming with activity throughout. It should be produced chaos. What it should be – and what it is – are two different things.

The first question that needs answering is, “Is the show personality driven or content driven?” Personality moments are few and far between. The prompter currently seems to be the position of power. The format is:  a) here’s the news, b) here’s a lot of weather, c) here’s the traffic, and d) here’s some guests on-11-5-2015 3-14-43 PMset to fill up the remaining time. Let’s start at the top. The lead story was the Bengals going 7-0 in a victory over the Steelers. Obvious lead. Coverage consisted of a couple plays, a dead live shot from a closed up Paul Brown Stadium, and later, yikes, two on-staff sports commentators sharing their views on the game to a morning audience of women. The one thing that was completely left out of the coverage – the only thing that made it a “lead story” to begin with – is the emotion – the exhilaration of a win. Not a single fan. Not a single “Hue Dey”. Not a single Cincinnati fan cheering the thrill of victory and not a single Pittsburgh fan experiencing the agony of defeat. Why wasn’t there a fan package? Or just a nat sound piece of Hue Deyisms? Why wasn’t Dan Wells at Coffee Emporium in OTR or Lookout Joe or even the old standby Fountain Square trying to find, oh, I don’t know, people? Passionate people?

Unproduced coverage. Unproduced live shot. Missed opportunity.

11-5-2015 9-31-56 AMAnother big story was tomorrow’s local elections, including legalizing marijuana in Ohio and choosing Kentucky’s next governor. Megan O’Rourke was “live” on the side of a road in Fairfield Township to talk about Issue 6 – which impacts the number of firefighters and police in the community. Again, not a single soundbite from anyone saying whether there is a need for more cops on patrol. Is there, say, a Starbucks in Fairfield Township where, um, people congregate? Or perhaps a fire station, where, um, firefighters whose jobs hang in the balance tend to hang out? These stories affect “people” and its “people” who are left out of the stories. The election coverage wasn’t even deep enough to merely mention the names of the leading candidates for Kentucky governor, nor did it talk at all about whether this marijuana measure has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. Instead, there’s Betty Talkinghead from the Board of Elections on-set discussing, yawn, voter turnout. These are basic, Producing 101 issues.

Unproduced coverage. Unproduced live shot. Missed opportunity.

The third potential big story was fog. Fog is something that generally happens outdoors. But the coverage was all 11-5-2015 1-13-01 PMindoors except for one citycam shot. Dan was in the thick of it earlier, why not check in with him – or at least use live video from his location? He’s downtown, so I’m guessing if my commute is into downtown it’s going to affect me. Megan’s area was crystal clear. No fog where she was. So where is the fog? The map Frank used was so wide and so generic, I never got an idea of where the fog is and if it’s going to affect my drive. The whole point of covering fog is to answer the question, “How is it going to affect me?” And that question was not answered for anyone in the tri-state. While we’re on the subject of weather, the show spends waaaaaaaaay tooooooo much time on weather overall. Stop reading the research! Too much weather is just as bad as too little weather.

There’s not a hint of any signature segments anywhere in the show – no content that stands out or defines the show as unique or separates the show from Good Morning Cincinnati. There were no Hollywood headlines or pop culture or tech or virals. As a viewer, I felt like I was missing something I should know before leaving the house.

Moving on from coverage, I want to point out some presentation issues. Normally, the show’s hosts would be the starting point in my review, but the roles of the hosts are so downplayed here, that they don’t even “lead” their own review.  Rob, Kara and Frank – they’re all primed to go there – it’s just that no one has defined where “there” is. They get mixes messages from the producers. For example, the music video they spoofed a few months ago to the song Shut Up And Dance… It was great. And frankly, it’s the kind of11-29-2015 10-26-05 AM segments they should be doing all the time. But that video was sooooo out of character with the current personality of the show. It felt completely awkward to watch, because that’s not who these hosts are in the studio. On set, they’re newsreaders in suits standing next to monitors looking serious. It could be them – if their personalities were produced – but it’s not them at the moment.

11-5-2015 9-20-45 AMAnd speaking of monitors, the Fox 19 Now anchors are seriously suffering from the notorious Setwalker Virus. It’s a particularly potent strain that has them walking from location to location, one big board to another and then yet another. The lead story has Rob Williams and Kara Sewell at opposite ends of a gigantic screen that has Bengals footage rolling in it. Now I ask you, what exactly am I, the viewer, supposed to be looking at in that shot? Should I be looking at the talent, who are on separate sides of my widescreen? Should I be looking at the generic Bengals video playing in the monitor? Or maybe the big banner underneath showing the score? Or perhaps the color of Kara’s shoes? It irks me that producers and directors are so completely unable to see how absolutely senseless this shot is. The job of a director is to be the eyes for the viewer. To show what they need to see and in sync with the narrative. This shot is completely unfocused so therefore the viewer doesn’t know what to focus on. Make a choice:

  • If what Rob is saying is important, then put him on a close-up to say it
  • If Kara is saying something important, put her on camera to say it
  • If the video you’re rolling is vital to the story, then play it full screen so I can see it unobstructed.
  • If the score of the game is the chief take-away from this story, then put it full screen on a graphic.

11-5-2015 9-30-47 AM 11-5-2015 9-31-26 AMOne of the catch phrases of News Directors these days is, “Storytelling”. We’re storytellers.” Problem is, monitors are poor storytelling tools. They take the focus away from the narrator and the narrative and they force the viewer to draw their own conclusion as to what the take-away from that shot is. Nearly every shot on Fox 19 Now is designed around a monitor – making the monitor the focus rather than the storyteller or the story. Sets are very unimportant to me – and they’re unimportant to viewers as well. If an anchor or host is compelling enough (s)he could be standing next to a haystack and no one would notice. But Fox 19 Now’s set is not one cohesive set. It’s a bunch of set pieces scattered in different corners of the studio and getting in the way of camera shots at every location. There’s never a wide establishing shot of the studio. The anchors need a home base – a “kitchen table” if you will – that’s the center of the show. Rob and Kara and Frank and Denise start their day at the kitchen table – and move from there to their weather or traffic locations and then return to the kitchen table. That promotes the group as an ensemble – as a family, because they’re almost always together.  When guests come in the studio, we don’t take them to the formal living room, they join us at the kitchen table. At the kitchen table, the show is shot like a talk show – cut, cut, cut – following the conversation via close-ups. That’s how you direct personality-driven shows. And don’t whine to me about your robocams. My most recent show was beautifully directed using robos. Yeah, it took some rehearsals and a lot of, “No, a two-shot is crap. I want a close-up of each of them”, but the directors finally made it happen. As for the set, build a dependable, usable home-base space and all the rest of that crap that creates a cable-access appearance can be put in the dumpster.

I like all of the talent on the show. I really do. And I also think they could each be transformed into jump off the screen personalities – a compelling, dynamic ensemble that far overshadows Robin and George, Matt and Savannah and all their minions.  Right now, they’re stuck in the middle – wanting to push things a little but afraid they’ll be out on a limb alone if they try.  Fox 19 Now needs to sit its staff down and play an hour of the WGN Morning News and an hour of Good Day New York and an hour of the Australian Today show – all of which can be streamed and captured for viewing – and show its host and reporters and producers and directors how successful morning shows – each with its own vision and personality – are produced daily and rake in lots of cash which is what it’s all about.

Unfortunately, this show needs to first focus on the very basics – content and presentation – before it can begin to produce personalities that will draw viewers away from Robin Roberts. My review is a 4 out of 10 for poor content production and presentation, unproduced personalities – and absolutely no concept of what this show actually is.

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