When it comes to morning news formats, I’m the expert. Whether it’s morning news, talk or infotainment – it’s what I do. I do it very well – with ratings, lots of Emmys and countless successful TV personalities to back me up.
I’ve spent roughly 15,000 hours in TV control rooms producing “live”, personality-driven morning shows. My record is unmatched in the morning. Whether I’m creating a show from scratch (KTLA Morning News, Eye Opener) or relaunching a franchise (E! News Live, World News Now) my success is solidified in ratings:
Yeah…the key question you may have is, can I do this for you? And the answer, quite simply, is “Yes…if you let me.” I’ve had incredible success at Tribune‘s KTLA Morning News and Eye Opener, at Comcast‘s E! News Live, and at the Fox Sports network I started up – TVG, because my bosses allowed me to succeed.
When it comes to:
- discovering warm, engaging, jump-off-the-screen personalities that female viewers are drawn to,
- putting those personalities into show formats that female viewers find compelling, and
- creating signature segments around those personalities, making the show completely unique and always unpredictable
…I’m the smartest guy in the room. No apologies.
Here’s what I do:
HOW I DO IT
I work with lots of amazing people in front of and behind the cameras. And I’ve discovered more than my share of jump-off-the-screen personalities. I’ve put together a video presentation that shows you exactly how I do it:
WHAT I CAN DO FOR YOU
Creating a personality-driven morning show is actually kind of easy once you know how all the pieces must fit together. That’s what I can do for you. I put those pieces together. I get the staff in sync. I get the communications going. Here’s a presentation of “what I can do for you”… including creating the three elements that absolutely must be in the mix when building a morning monster.
Communication is the first on my long to-do list for every project I tackle.
I GET EVERYONE TALKING
Producing personality-driven formats during the first months of the show requires lots of communication with
everyone from the talent, the director, and the crew to the producing staff. Everybody needs to be “clued in” on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and specifically how to do it. Then there’s lots of reviewing in post-mortems. Eventually, everyone gets on the same page and the need to communicate is cut dramatically because everyone “gets it”. Things become second nature and everyone knows their role. This is the time when the show becomes rather unpredictable because things are “allowed to just happen”. Some of the best “signature segments” on The KTLA Morning News and my other shows originated by accident because they were allowed to happen – without anything being forced by the producers, director or talent. This is the prime time for the producer to recognize those accidents and incorporate them in future shows as recurring signature segments.
RIGHT BRAIN PRODUCING
The biggest reason the majority of attempts to produce personality-driven shows fail – is simply because of the age-old struggle between left brainers and right brainers. It’s right-brain thinking that needs to be embraced on every level in order for it to work on-air. Most bosses who run stations or networks are left-brainers. They’re black and whiters; lawyers or businessmen. They’re all about logic and analysis and their bottom line is profit. And they should be. Showrunners, however, tend to be right-brainers – all different shades of gray. We’re all about imagination, emotion and creativity. The station runner and the showrunner have different paths to their mutual goal – success, ratings, profit. And they each use a different vocabulary which often is mistaken for them being “on different pages”. The boss talks of ratings and dollars. The showrunner is all about presentation and aesthetics and creativity. So the two need to realize that they share the same goal even though, a) they sometimes speak different languages, and b) they take different paths to ultimately get to the same place.
If your boss and his/her boss aren’t on board, you’re sunk. If the talent or the director or the assignment editor doesn’t “get it”, you’re on different pages. You don’t want to force a left-brained producer to produce a right-brained show when he’d rather be producing a newscast of record. You don’t want to insist that left-brained Jane Journalist laugh, ad lib and talk about her weekend plans when she’d really rather be exposing a government cover-up. Making sure the right personality types are in the right job positions is essential to turning a run-of-the-mill morning newscast into a morning monster.
THE “R” WORD
The majority of shows I’ve produced have been heavily researched and often focus-grouped. Consultants are often brought in because they’re contracted with the station group. Those official and professional consultant-types will give you truckloads of research – and believe me, they are proud of their research and swear by it. For a recent morning show I oversaw, if you boil it all down, the research that was presented to me by these consultants invited by my boss to participate essentially said:
- show moms how to better raise their kids
- give advice on how moms can become better parents
- help moms balance child-raising and careers
I guarantee you – if I produced that show exactly as the research indicated, moms wouldn’t watch. Nobody wants that stuff in the morning. They’re brushing their teeth and tying their kids’ shoes. They don’t want morning parenting tutorials on television. But because this is what people said when interviewed at the mall, questioned behind a one-way mirror, or what they selected on a survey website, it must be factual. People will tell you they watch PBS and Discovery Channel regularly when in fact, they’re watching Jersey Shore and The Simpsons. They’re not deliberately being deceptive. That’s just how they see themselves and, more importantly, that’s how they want to be seen – as PBS viewers, not as Jersey Shore addicts. And this is where consultants fail their clients. They spew forth the data and provide absolutely no perspective as to why their information is misleading – and often, just plain wrong. If they’d been producing morning shows, they’d know what their viewers want simply by the feedback in e-mails and calls and social media and overall fluctuations in the ratings. You have to produce shows by your gut instinct and unfortunately, gut instinct isn’t tracked in the research.
FOCUS ON THIS
Do you know how the Ford Focus got its name? Take a wild guess. From a “focus” group, of course. I understand that corporations need their research and focus groups have their place. They absolutely do. But when management puts more faith in the thoughts and opinions of mall shoppers than in the executives they brought in to create these shows – executives who have a history of creating successful, personality-driven shows – they end up with “compromised” shows that are as generic as the heavily-researched competitors’ shows. Merv Griffin once sent me an e-mail asking if I would like to attend focus groups that our syndicators were setting up for Merv Griffin’s Crosswords, a new game show I was Executive Producing. I replied very succinctly,
“Merv, I would rather asphyxiate on my own vomit”.
He agreed, as I knew he would. And the syndicators held the focus groups without us – because the syndicators needed a piece of paper clearly stating “it tests well”, if they were ever going to sell the show.
Your newsreaders – I transform them into personalities. Your producers – I push them out of their comfort zone to become a power producer. Newscast directors – I help them develop a unique cutting style. For executive-types, and most network, cable and local broadcast management are left-brain lawyer-types, I can show you how to successfully achieve your goals of ratings and sales success while promoting your right-brain production team’s goals of developing and producing a personality-driven, powerhouse brand. I can take your morning staff and viewers on that ride. Of course, every show is unique because all the variables are
different. What I do is take those variables and align them – giving your show a laser sharp identity. I’ve successfully created game, court, sports and reality shows – many of which are still airing, but my roots and, frankly, my most successful formats, have always been in the news realm. I am proud to be working with local, cable, internet and network stations who are taking the steps to turn their morning show into a franchise. As a hands-on producer, I’ve turned shows into successful franchises, including the (original) KTLA Morning News (and its many spinoffs), ABC’S World News Now, Tribune’s original and relaunched Eye Opener and E! News Live.
Let me help you assemble and build a team into an award-winning, ratings-grabbing morning machine. I’ve been there, done that, and done it again. Let me do it with your team! This isn’t just a format change. It’s the ride of a lifetime. Fasten your seatbelts! The following pages outline some of the topics I tackle.
Breaking news trumps everything – let me state that very clearly. I am not going to discuss breaking news here, although I have a solid resume of Emmy-award winning breaking news coverage. I’ve overseen “live” coverage of everything from the LA earthquake, the riots and the yearly wildfires. I was in the booth for O.J‘s final freeway ride, Nelson Mandella‘s Freedom Tour, the funeral for Princess Diana, and most recently, the Isis-claimed attack outside the Prophet Mohammed cartoon contest near Dallas. But in the absence of breaking news, these are the elements I focus on to create compelling television on air, on-line, and in your hand.
THE MECHANICS OF SHOW STACKING
Most morning shows run for two hours or longer. I’ve personally line-produced and showrun 4-hour newscasts daily, and in doing so, have created formatting formulas that most efficiently make use of the writers/editors. It’s all part of stacking the shows.
- I will show your producers the simple formulas for stacking eight complete news segments, two segments each in Hours #1, 2, 3 and 4 that will not overstress the writers/editors.
- I will show producers how to make the best use of reverse pyramid stacking
- I will show producers how I stack a four-hour show, from first sitting down to printing out the rundowns, in 1-hour – and how they can do that as well
Story selection is essential to a successful show. It’s an art form unto itself– plugging in a stabbing here and a fire there is not the way to stack a show. Here are some tips I will show your producers:
- I will explain how to effectively use their “live” news reporters – and why they should keep them away from most overnight spot news stories
- I will explain to producers and assignment editor what kinds of stories they should be selecting for their “live” reporters and which ones work most consistently to keep an audience
- I will explain why they should rarely, if ever, lead with international stories, and very selectively with national stories
- I will show the writers little tricks to get viewers to walk away from their bathroom mirror and head to the TV for “must see” stories
- I will show producers how to truly become the “news leader” in the market, by having the competition repeatedly “rip off” our stories
- I will show producers how to instantly improve the pace of the news segments by avoiding the number one trap they fall into when stacking
I will show producers why teases are the most important writing assignment on their show. This is the one area that
sinks many newscasts.
- I will show producers where to find those irresistible and totally teasable stories they should include in their newscast – just because they make for great teases
- I will show producers where to stack them in the show so that they are not “killed” for time reasons – so they are not teasing stories they don’t ultimately deliver – which pisses off viewers most
- I will show producers how to effectively cross-promote content on the stations’ other digital platforms to get the most audience flow to those offerings
- I will show the producers why exaggerating or blatantly lying in teases, as the ultra-competitive entertainment strip shows do regularly, always backfire with your viewers
- I will show producers how to use labels such as “exclusive”, “breaking news”, and all the others without misleading the viewers
ON AIR: GOING WITH THE FLOW
I will help your producers avoid the pitfalls I fell into with this format. Early on, my biggest problem in producing personality-driven shows was that I felt I was giving up control to the talent. But it’s not about a power struggle. It’s all about what’s best for the show.
- I will show producers how to keep their egos in check – as that can make or break a successful transition to this type of format
- I will show your producers how to effectively manage their use of the anchor’s IFB’s without your talent feeling they are puppets on a string
BACKTIMING & COMMERCIALS
Each show has its own shorthand in the control room – especially when it comes to backtiming the shows and getting in all those commercial breaks. From “Lotto Sandwiches” to “Reverses” and “Weather Express”, I’ll show you how to manipulate commercial breaks and program segments to get your content in but also make sure the station gets paid.
- I will show your producers how to efficiently backtime a show so that there is always a cache of time for unexpected moments that turn into memorable moments
- I will show producers how to manipulate station breaks to their best timing advantage without setting off alarm bells in the traffic department
- I will show your producers how to avoid “missed opportunities” that the show is presenting them – and how to recognize them when they happen
CONTROL ROOM ISSUES
There is no more exhilarating place to be on a daily basis than in the control room of a “live” TV show. But if you as the producer are not prepared, it can be a very, very lonely existence.
- I will show producers why it is essential that they have a “Plan B’ for every minute in the hour
- I will demonstrate why that plan has to be easily executed at a moments’ notice
- I will help your producers learn to communicate with the director in the booth – on a show like this, when change is constant, a producer needs to have the ear of the director
- I will show your producers why they should see their rundowns as “an ever-changing roadmap” and why they must continually make changes and adjustments throughout the show
The director’s job is the most clear-cut – get the show on the air with as little breakage as possible. Walking into the control room on any given day, I often (secretly) felt sorry for my director for what I was about to put him through. Here are some of the areas I focus on with directors:
- I will help your director get past the #1 cause of friction in the control room with the producer
- I will help directors get past the old style of directing news including not having the rundown dictate every camera shot and video roll
- I will prepare your director to anticipate what wasn’t planned and to act before reacting
- I will show your director how to properly code the show so it can be as flexible as ever even with automation
- I will help directors get over the notion that “clean” shows are “perfect” shows when just the opposite is true
- I will help directors take risks with camera shots, audio cues, live remotes, graphics, chyrons, all the stuff that’s been relegated to be used only in traditional ways
- I will help the director earn a directing rapport with the talent, so that expectations are achieved on both sides which helps expand the boundaries of the show
CUTTING THE SHOW
In the control room, if I end up watching the “line” monitor, you can be sure the director is strong because (s)he’s showing me what I want to see, when I want to see it. It’s when I end up looking at the camera monitors I realize we have a weak director. Cutting a show is all about timing and it’s something that really can’t be taught. Either the director “gets it” or (s)he doesn’t.
- I will show your director why this show format requires a completely different cutting style than a traditional newscast
- I will explain to your director why this format opens up a wide range of directing opportunities and allows for creativity and the development of a signature directing style far beyond what a tradition newscast will allow
- I will challenge your director to put his/her own mark on the show – one that dovetails with the producing and anchoring styles
I will show your director why sitting on 2, 3 & 4 shots is the kiss of death for pacing a show. Of all the resources at the
hands of a director, the close-up is his most powerful tool. Yet so many directors fail to recognize that fact.
- I will demonstrate how, during non-news segments, close-ups – tight close-ups – almost to the point of being uncomfortable – are the way to go
- I will demonstrate why the standard “network close-up” that’s been in use since the ’50′s needs to be retired
THE WALTER CRONKITE SYNDROME
With all due respect to Mr. Cronkite, this is a syndrome that many anchors and reporters suffer when they start to transition to a lighter format. It’s the feeling that they must give up their credibility and their “Capital J” journalism status and lower themselves to become TV news clowns. What we’re actually doing is not diminishing their newscaster side but enhancing their personality side.
- I will show your talent why they are not throwing away the journalist in them by revealing their personalities
- I will help your talent seamlessly transition from “light mode” to “breaking news mode” without it feeling awkward or forced
- I will explain to your talent why more and more local news shows and network shows prefer hiring former sportscasters over news people as lead host talent
I will help your anchors to overcome their fear of ad-libbing. They need to realize that once they throw a ball, their co-anchor will catch it. If the ball continuously drops to the floor, there’s a problem with the co-anchor. The term “ad-libbing” kinda cheapens what morning anchor people do. I think of an ad-lib as one or two lines, while morning anchors need to carry on conversations with their co-anchors, guests, and directly into the camera with viewers. Anchors who are totally dependent on the prompter are problematic in morning news formats. I have been known to deliberately jam the prompter (a little computer trick I learned) in order to force my anchors to learn to operate without them. It’s not pretty at first, but you’d be amazed at how, eventually, the prompter becomes nothing more than a nuisance to anchors who no longer have any dependence on it.
- I will take your anchors from 100% dependence on the prompter to 10%. The only time they’ll bother with the prompter is during news segments
- I will raise your talent’s comfort level with ad libbing to the point that you will be “pulling them back” rather than “pushing them forward”
- I will prevent your anchors from falling into a trap that many do after becoming over confident in ad-libbing
Some say when it comes to on-air presence, you’ve either got it or you don’t. I disagree. On air presence can be manufactured. I will oversee a combination of factors that will have a wallflower anchor jumping off the screen.
- I will teach your anchors how to effortlessly interact with the cameras in a way that draws the viewer into their conversation
- I will make it easy for your anchors to interact with each other on camera, including correcting habitually bad body language that sends out negative impressions to the viewer
SCRIPTING & TALKING
Some talent have annoying on-air voices. It’s not always their fault. Sometimes, it’s the way their voice is retransmitted after traveling through the mic and into the audio board and finally out onto the air.
- I’ll tell your anchors a simple trick to make technology work for them – it’ll make their voices “phonogenic”
- I will tell your anchors the #1 mistake they make when it comes to reading scripts for this type of news format
Stations will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars hiring talent, then shine a few lights on them and throw them on
the air. It’s amazing how many high-rent talent are lit with such low-rent lighting. Lighting is the most overlooked on-screen element of any newscast. While I admit I’m no lighting expert, I can certainly tell well-lit talent from those poorly lit. Lighting is a key issue in which there can be no compromise. It’s interesting to note that when I produce TV in Hollywood, some of the most TV-savvy celebrities will come out onto the set to check out the lighting before sitting down to be interviewed. Many will insist lighting changes be made during the break leading into their segment. While it’s a pain in the ass to adjust the lighting for guests, these celebrities clearly know how important lighting is – and they insist on getting it right.
- I’ll expose the key mistake most stations make when it comes to lighting their morning news talent
- I’ll work with your lighting designer to make sure your anchors “glow” in a bath of soft lighting
Along with your larger-than-life hosts, signature segments are the elements that begin to define the personality of your show. A good example of a signature segment is “Where In The World Is Matt Lauer”. It’s a segment that viewers immediately identify with the “Today” show. Past signature segments from KTLA include “Hi-Rise Window Shopping”, “Magic With Bob” and “Dance Party Friday”. WGN’s morning show has gotten in to doing parodies of what their local competition does, whether parodying news promos or news stories. WGN and KTTV‘s Good Day L.A. both started off as copycats of the KTLA show but have since successfully went in their own directions. Signature segments are largely the reason. (Check out the signature segments posted to the right).
- I will show your producer how to find or create sigsegs that are right for your show. In fact, many times, the segments find you
- Signature segments are usually built around one of the show’s talent. Ultimately, you want to build sigsegs around each on-air person
Booking interview guests is not as easy as making a call and getting the guest to the studio on time. With this type of format, the first consideration should always be “how will the talent come off in this interview”? The guest is always a secondary consideration, assuming they bring an interesting topic to the show.
- I will show your producer why just filling the slots with guests isn’t enough and doesn’t buy you anything except time fillers
- I will show your producer how to pick and choose guests that make for good TV – but also showcase your talent
- I will help your producer determine which interview guest is right for which type of interview format.
- Something the network shows have never learned — I will explain to your producer why booking someone like Richard Simmons is always a much better strategy than booking someone like Nicole Kidman
A solid social media strategy is essential if you’re going to reach viewers on every platform. I am convinced that viewers will find you if you’re producing a show they want to see. But I also believe that deliberately going after them in the social media hotspots they congregate just speeds up the process. It’s been determined that only 4% of news viewers are involved in social TV activities while they watch a newscast. I have no evidence to dispute that, however, I believe the percentage can greatly increased with a show that’s actively engaged in interacting with its viewers “live” on the air. Morning shows are the perfect platform for experimenting with social TV. I say “experimenting” because I have yet to see a show that has devised a solid formula for success.
The rise of “viral mills” like Upworthy, NowThisNews, Buzzfeed, and so many copycats are fooling internet users into believing they’re getting legitimate news from their Facebook friends and Twitter followers. In fact, they’re getting sucked in by misleading, emotional headlines that don’t usually deliver when you click through to view the story. Listicles and other similar devices are ways for these sites to regenerate content, often with disregard for copyrighted material, quickly, cheaply and then blast onto social media for millions to consume. There’s no doubt that sites like these are success stories, attracting hundreds of millions of clicks. But the danger persists that consumers will be unable to distinguish content generated by these types of sites with legitimate news coming from local and network news sites.
I am not going to outline my specific social media initiatives here. This area literally changes daily. I read the other day that it’s been “decided” that so-called “second-screen apps” are dead. Viewers aren’t embracing them. “Second screens” are all we’ve heard about for the past two years and then one day certain “industry experts” declare the idea extinct. Anything I write here is going to be outdated before I even save it on my hard-drive.
I certainly want to be on the forefront of “inventing” new social media strategies that harness the power of social TV. This is one area of local TV news that we’re going to have to create as we go along. I’ll save my thoughts on the most effective ways to incorporate social media into newscasts for our face-to-face encounters.
I’ve barely scratched the surface when it comes to producing morning TV. There is so much to focus on as we bring morning news into the new century. From covering breaking news to story selection to story presentation, so many elements play a role in creating the personality of your particular newscast. I have tackled them all – quite successfully. And I look forward to guiding you and your staff down a path I know so well.
I try to remain flexible in my relationship with clients. I’m happy to work with local stations, cable and broadcast networks, digital channels & production companies in the following roles:
- As senior management in a start-up network or program;
- As replacement senior management for an existing show (I love turnarounds) on an exclusive or permanent basis (Availability Q1 2016);
- As an outside consultant to foster rapid growth, forecast budgeting and turnaround management;
- 3-6 months as Consulting EP or Co-EP of your show with authority to make changes in content, staffing, production and format on a quarterly or biannual basis with a focus on turnaround and/or transitioning; I can recruit, mentor, and develop talent, producers and directors and deliver an on-air product with a solid vision, defined personalities, and a show that attracts more viewers (+50% more viewers in the case of Eye Opener Dallas in 2015). I will not “consult” on a show-based project if I don’t have the authority to make changes on-air. Just “advising” a producer or talent to “try this or that” will not result in the dramatic on-air changes you’re looking for;
- Individual performance: Anchors, reporters, meteorologist/ weather and sportscasters, producers, and directors can have their recent work reviewed and mentored over the course of 3 x 30 minute sessions with feedback (1 introductory/goal setting + two cycles of feedback). This guarantees 3 hours of my time including reviewing your airchecks, compiling notes and recommendations and the 3 x 30 minute phone consultation – minimum $750). If you need a recommendation, ask your agent. They’ve probably done business with me.
I welcome your NDA. Feel free to contact me at the e-mail and phone number below.
Raymond J Brune