I could not help but smile recently when a producer tweeted and asked for ideas to keep energy levels up during newscasts. I immediately thought of all the late night football and baseball games I sat through, praying it would just end and wondering if I would fall asleep driving home. I also thought of my first gig as a morning show producer, where I had to pace around the station just before the newscast so I would be somewhat functional in the booth.
Keeping energy levels up during these newscasts is the burden of both the anchors and producers. Heck, the reporters and photojournalists have to stay awake also. It’s brutal at times, I know. But there are ways to energize even when your body is screaming, “Must sleep now!!!”
- Write how anchors talk
- Have anchors write some stories
- Trade reads
- Add stories, even if there are not any breakers
- Jokes and music blasts
- Get up, stand up
In “How to get inside your anchors heads” we list quite a few techniques to help write how your anchor talks. This is important for anchors to keep their energy levels up. Sometimes when it all feels forced, and you are tired, it is easy to sort of give up and just muddle through the copy. Using phrases the anchor likes helps the anchor own it and raises energy levels.
It works even better if you have the anchors write some of the stories they will read. Producers, look at that line again. Have anchors write stories they will read. Sure once in a while you will have to change reads, and the writing won’t work out. I usually asked my anchors to write stories lower in the newscast where energy levels dipped, and the chance of read changes went way down. The point is your anchor will deliver the copy better if it is truly “theirs.” It provides a level of ownership that helps the anchor be more engaged throughout the newscast. Producers, this can make your job a little easier also. No, not just because it can ease up the writing load. This is one of the first techniques I used to raise meter numbers in weak spots. Often there is a correlation with anchor energy levels and newscast ratings dipping. Sometimes the answer really is simple. Get the anchors more involved in that section of your newscast.
Another trick is to mix things up a bit and trade reads if you see the anchors energy levels dipping. Hit the commercial break, then tell the anchors and crew you are switching reads for the block. The first few times you might get some complaints, but often doing this hypes up everyone’s energy levels a bit and you get a tighter, more energetic block. I would not use this technique every day. But if you have had several slow newscasts, try this technique on and off to keep everyone guessing a little bit.
A producer tweeted that she adds stories throughout her morning show, even if there are no breakers, just to keep everyone sharp. I have used this technique also. This is easy to do if you have an AP. If you don’t have one, write a few extra vo’s or vo/sots before the show and have the editors prepare them. Throw them in the bottom of the rundown after the end break so they don’t whack your timing. The editors can have these stories cut and ready just in case. This is also a great way to protect yourself in case a live crew has technical issues. If your anchors ad lib well, give them a story once in a while on the fly. This helps keep them in practice for when you get slammed with breakers.
I used to joke with live crews and anchors, when appropriate during newscasts. Usually I joked around with crews in the commercial break before the block that contained their live hit. It broke the ice a bit and would perk them up. Just be tasteful and don’t drag it out. One liners are great! A quick blast of a guitar solo in the ifb also perked everyone up. Again, not a good idea to do to anchors or live crews during the news block. But many times your crews, you and your audio person have a few seconds during commercial breaks.
When all else fails tell everyone to get up and jump or twist or walk during commercial breaks. That little bit of movement really does help. When the lead-in was a sports event I liked scripting more anchor pitches in standing positions if possible. I used to demand more walk and talks from live reporters as well. It just helps when you move around.
So next time everyone’s wiped out and its airtime, try some of these tricks. It might wake everyone up, just in time!