How Do You Become A Great Producer?
- A great producer always asks themselves one question about every story they choose to air… who cares?
- A great producer can quickly sift through hundreds of headlines and videos every day and pick out the ones that matter to their viewers.
- This doesn’t mean that every story is profound. Every show needs balance. A great producer gives their audience a good balance of emotions. A balance of emotions does NOT mean emotionless. Apathy is not the emotion you want to evoke in any audience. But, you also don’t want to take viewers on an insanely erratic roller coaster ride. A great producer strategically plans how they will affect their viewer’s emotions from the beginning of the show until the end.
- A great producer understands their audience demographics and adjusts the story choice and writing style accordingly.
Newscasts are separated by blocks. The first segment of the show is called the “A-block.” The first commercial break airs at the end of the A-block. Then the second segment is called the “B-block.”
Every station has a different show wheel for each show. Show wheels indicate how many blocks and breaks air during a newscast. It also shows how many minutes of commercial breaks air in the show.
Most blocks in live newscasts fluctuate slightly in time depending on the content. Some stations pre-tape blocks of their news. In this case, they may have hard times.
Producers create template rundowns with their blocks and breaks which will generally stay unchanged. Each day, a producer starts their day with a blank rundown (this includes break times and blocks). The producer is responsible for stacking the rundown with enough stories to fill their newscast.
Why Lines Are Highlighted In Red
In ENPS the red lines signify the producer floated the story. Float=skip. This means the script will not show up in the teleprompter, the video and graphics will not be queued in the automation system Ignite.
A producer chooses to float stories for different reasons:
- To cut time from the show. Floating a story will help if a show is over or heavy. A show gets heavy when:
- too many stories are added
- anchors/reporters/meteorologists adlib for too long
- another program leading into your show goes long (this usually happens during sporting or live events)
- To keep backups in the rundown and readily available in case of an emergency like a live shot failing, or a reporter not making it in time.
What TV News Looks Like To Viewers
Here’s an example of an A-block I produced for News Channel 8 at 8 on Great 38. This is what viewers see:
How It’s Made
Here’s the ENPS rundown that shows how I formatted the A-block to communicate what I wanted the show to look like with my editors, floor director, technical director, director, anchors, reporters and camera operator:
Here’s another example of a show I produced. Watch the newscast and follow along with the rundown to better understand formatting.
NOTE: the yellow highlights on break 3 and final weather represent the timing bar. Since my show was an hour, it’s broken up into two separate half-hour rundowns. The producer hits the space bar and the yellow timing bar moves through each page in the rundown to help time the show.
Here’s another example of a show I produced, notice how the show matches the rundown:
Here’s another example of a show I produced, notice how the show matches the rundown:
How It’s Made
NOTE: During this newscast, I move the scripts for A44-A49 into the C-block because my live shot in A23-A29 went long. Most live newscasts are rated using Nielsen boxes. These boxes record how long people watch different channels and at what time. Ratings are measured in 15-minute increments. Producers don’t want viewers changing the channel, which is why writing great teases is so important. Depending on who you work for, you may be required to start your C-block at 15-minutes or 45-minutes past the hour to improve your ratings. So, A44-A49 are in the C-block because if I would have left those scripts in the A-block, then I wouldn’t have started my C-block until 09:16:40 a.m.
So how did I move the scripts during the live show and not mess up the newscast? I floated A44-A49 when I realized my A-block would be heavy. This caused ignite, my directors and anchors to skip those scripts smoothly. When we got into the first break, I told my directors I wanted to move A44-A49 out of the A-block and into the C-block. Then I highlighted those lines and dragged them into the C-block. I unfloated them and told my anchor we were resurrecting the scripts from A44-A49. When you look at the estimated duration column, you can see A44-A49 is 1:40. So to adjust my overall show time, I floated/killed the traffic donut in C1-C3 that was supposed to be 1:17.
Election Night 2016
Election coverage is notoriously the most challenging show for a producer, especially if their show is airing live as election results come in. I produced this newscast at 8 p.m. on election night in 2016 when polls were closing across the country. This meant I had to prepare for anything and everything to change, and it did.
This newscast was unusual because we usually begin at 8 p.m. on WTTA, but on election night, we simulcasted cut-ins on WFLA. So the A-block would usually start on A1, but since we aired a cut-in in the same rundown at 7:45 p.m. my A-block begins on page A26.
Also, note that this one-hour newscast is stacked in two half-hour rundowns because there’s so much content that the system would have a difficult time loading changes if it were in one rundown. Because of this, you will see the first half-hour ends after page D26. Underneath the black line, notice how I kept concession and victory speeches ready to go, so I could just drag them into the rundown when those occurred. Producers should always prepare breaking/election news templates under the black line so they can get them on air faster with little or no notice. This also helps directors code ahead of time so the automation system, Ignite, can adjust to changes faster.
The second half hour was very fluid so you’ll notice I floated much of what was originally planned. I also moved a few page numbers around to adjust to the breaking news. Because of the number of last-minute speeches, I skipped a three-minute commercial break and ended up airing it at 9 p.m. to make room for the election coverage. Producers should always get permission to move breaks out of their designated hour from a supervisor since these breaks contain advertising money.
A28 is floated just in case my pre-produced open wasn’t edited in time.
Here’s the ENPS rundown that shows how I formatted the 2016 election show.
I produced the 7 p.m. show that aired on WFLA 12/09/15. This show is big on consumer news so I chose a couple of blocks to showcase different ways to tell consumer stories. I put it together very quickly so there’s a lot of room for improvement. For example, there’s too much file video and would be better to use specific images.
Police & Periscope Tease, Toss, PKG & tag
Look For Opportunities To Use Sound
Here you see a story about Adele with a nat pop in the tease SOTVO, then a longer SOT in the story airing in the C-block.
1shot, sotvo script
Don’t be a lazy producer
Example of a lazy script:
- The VO is way too long.
- File video is not necessary when new video exists.
- It’s not new, now, next.
- The new element is added in an on camera tag.
- The producer was lazy by doing an on camera tag instead of showing the Instagram post
- The script is not written to video
How to make it better
- New, now, next.
- Script written to new video.
- Video credited to fans.
- Social media response both written and shown on air.
- The writing is tighter/concise.
Writing Lower Thirds
Lower thirds are also referred to as "supers."
Avoid some acronyms in graphics like the World Health Organization:
Lower Third Examples
Subject 2 line lw3
Writing to Video
How This Story Was Teased
Speed is a crucial skill a producer must have nowadays. There is no way a producer knows 100% of the stories in their show. News producers must educate themselves on a wide range of topics quickly. The faster a producer can do this, the more time they can spend crafting their scripts and being creative.
Tips For Producers
- Learn how to search for things on the internet.
- Use control+F to find keywords.
- Use the “most recent” filter when searching for the latest information.
- Learn how to skim a story to get the most important information at a glance.
- Learn how to write quickly
- You need to know what good writing is and what bad writing is.
- The more you read other people’s scripts and watch other people’s shows the more you ingrain a gut instinct of what is good or bad.
- Write a lot. The more you write, the faster you become.
- Work smarter not harder.
- Create script templates so you don’t rebuild every script from scratch.
- Keep breaking news templates readily available and coded under your rundown so you don’t waste time formatting when trying to get breaking news on the air.
- Watch/listen/read news before you come to work so you have an idea of what may be in your show before you get there.
- Always keep a list of teaseable stories in your notes on your phone.
- Find your go-to websites that you know will give you good story ideas.
- Know what aired on your station when you weren’t there. If you work evenings, watch the morning show, or log on to the content management app (like iNews or ENPS) to go through their rundowns before you start your shift.
- Follow your competitors on Twitter.
Being a great news producer means more than putting a clean show on the air and getting all the information right without typos. Being a great producer means building your show in a way that evokes emotion and makes people want to keep watching. Two massively underutilized tools in a producer’s belt are promotions and teases.
Promos get viewers to tune in. Teases keep them watching. Promos air during commercial breaks. Teases air during the newscast. The promotions department writes promotions. News producers write teases.
If you haven’t already read the promos and teases lecture, do yourself a favor and head on over to the lecture to learn how to write concise, creative and specific teases.
Just because promotions departments are responsible for creating promos, doesn’t mean the producer should just focus on the newscast. Producers must collaborate with the promotions department so they can be better at their jobs.
News Producers are really the only ones who can see the big picture in their show. Most promotions producers will look through a rundown halfway through the day. Depending on a producer’s workflow, a half-done rundown is rarely the best representation of how the show will turn out. Give your promotions people a hand by emailing them your most promotable stories as early as possible. Send them video and tell them how you plan to tease the story. Make sure the promos and teases compliment each other, not just repeat.
News producers should also ask the promotions department if they’ve seen any cool stories that should be in the show. When news producers and promotions people work together it results in more effective promotions and boosts ratings.
Here’s a great example of a promo:
If you want to be a great producer, great ratings will help you get attention from the bosses. How do you get great ratings? Teases are the most powerful element producers can use to keep viewers watching.
Use your show open like a tease. Pre-produce your open. That means picking at least a few sound bites from your stories and having an editor cut a package showcasing three stories coming up in your show. I suggest choosing your lead story, then two other talkers. I’d tease your b-block story and deep tease a story later in your newscast. This way viewers will stick around if they know you have great stories coming up.
Here’s an example of a pre-produced show open:
Know when to break the rules. If you’re leading with a terror attack, then focus your entire open on that one story. I know your executive producer may not like it, but I encourage you to fight back on this one. Viewers watch your show from a very different perspective. TV news journalists often fail to see how insensitive they’re being by promoting and teasing happy stories right after devastating ones.
Violence will likely be part of every newscast. But some acts of violence are so big they warrant more caution. Your executive producer will likely want you to stick with consistent show open music for branding. However, in this instance, please don’t hesitate to use more appropriate music. Here are two examples of when I chose not to include other stories in my open because the attacks were the only stories that mattered that day:
When you deep tease, don’t forget to remind viewers about it in another tease, preferably the tease immediately before the story airs.
If your boss lets you, pre-produce your teases too. Add some music and sound bites to pick up the pace and set the tone.
Break the rules the right way. It’d be great to tease three stories in each tease, but sometimes going big on one story in a tease is more powerful. I know you’re under pressure to write super short teases so you can increase your story count. Many executive producers will give you about 10 seconds per story in a tease. But sometimes spending time in one story tease is worth the return on your investment like this:
Ask your reporters to shoot standup teases, then produce them. This will stand out next to those monotonous and boring newscasts you’re up against in the fight for ratings. Don’t just air a standup tease by itself. Add flare like a nat pop and some b-roll with a pre-produce announcer open and close like this:
Don’t make this common producer error:
Maps can be incredibly helpful in telling a story like this. But if you don’t include major interstates, you’ll leave viewers concerned and confused. So is this in their neighborhood or not?
An animated map that starts wide, then zooms in is more helpful. The zoomed in map includes major streets and interstates.
Another way to step it up is to adjust your show wheel. A producer (or executive producer, assistant news director, news director) will adjust a show wheel in hopes of keeping viewers watching longer.
One show wheel adjustment I made in San Diego was to create seamless transitions from the lead-in show. Especially if your lead-in show is primetime, producers can carry over more viewers if they start their newscast immediately after the primetime show ends.
The challenge is the commercials need to go somewhere. That means newscast breaks either need to be longer, or a producer needs to move the break to another spot in the show, creating an additional block. You must weigh these choices, but I think stealing those primetime viewers is better for evening shows than losing a few viewers during longer or more frequent breaks. This method is not as effective in morning shows.
Here is an example of a show wheel suggestion I made at WFLA. I have to preface this with it’s my opinion. This is not necessarily right or wrong because every newscast is adjusting to different viewer habits and different lead-in and lead-out programming.
- Instead of trying to squeeze two blocks in before my quarter hour, I made the A-block longer and kept my viewers watching through the quarter hour in a B-block. This improves my chances of getting those viewers in both quarter hour Nielsen ratings.
- To keep viewers watching through the second break, I added a 15-second tease in the middle of the commercial break.
- Don’t you hate when you sit through a break only for the anchors to just say goodbye? Viewers do too. If you have a good lead-out show they will stick around to watch the show that airs after your newscast, so add a break at the end of the newscast instead.
Talking about Nielsen, great producers know how to interpret Grabix reports. Great producers know how to read between the lines and adjust their newscast accordingly.
Here’s an example of one of my reports I submitted while I was producing weekend newscasts: 6pm Sunday Grabix Analysis Jeanette Abrahamsen
If you want a producer job, you’ll likely have to write at least one show critique as part of your interview process. Here are two show critiques I wrote before I was hired at WFLA:
- WFLA show critique by Jeanette Abrahamsen Nov. 5, 2013, 11 p.m.
- WFLA Show Critique by Jeanette Abrahamsen Nov. 5, 2013, 5 a.m.