Many of you know that I spend a decent amount of my time watching newscasts from around the country.  I also spend a lot of time talking with producers.  One thing that has surprised me, is how few understand the concept of an “umbrella lead.” This is important because the “umbrella lead” sets the foundation for creating really incredible newscast opens as well as designing team coverage.

So what’s an umbrella lead?  Well, it is what you probably picture in your mind.  At the start of the newscast you mention one thing you will show the viewer, then you mention another. The anchor’s statements are an umbrella over the two images you are showing.  Here’s an example: “Flames shooting high in the air tonight at this house. We’re going to show you how a neighbor kept this from being much worse.  But first, these protestors say lawmakers are about to cost you a lot of money.”  My point in this example is the stories do not have to be related. Hopefully one will have great visuals.  The other may not.

So what types of stories qualify for umbrella leads?  Umbrella leads do not require that one of the stories is a breaker.  They just both need to have high impact.  A breaking story can be used, especially in a situation where you are still gathering information, but want to make it clear you are on the scene of a big story and viewers need to stay put.  However, thinking that is the only time to use an umbrella lead, really limits its potential effectiveness when trying to attract and hold an audience.

Some producers use umbrella leads when they just cannot decide which story is the best off the top.  Now you can have both.  Some use them to try and keep the lead-in audience through a key meter point.  For instance, if you are coming out of the show “Scandal,” great flame video would likely draw the audience in, more so than video of protestors.  So you use the flames to try and keep them engaged, but do the very important protest story in the actual lead position in your rundown.

Umbrella leads are really a type of tease.  But remember, both elements need to be in the a-block.  Ideally you want them to be the first two “chunks” in the a-block.  By “chunks” I am not talking about a simple VO or VO/SOT.  I’m talking about a reporter package and/or live shot.  It could also be an anchor package or even a produced up segment involving several anchor driven elements on one important story.  If you don’t place this high in the a-block you confuse and possibly upset the viewer.  You made this story out to be hugely important by using it in the umbrella lead.  So you need to consider that fact when placing it in your rundown.

O.K., so how do umbrella leads help you create team coverage and incredible newscast opens?  Cold opens are based on the concept of giving a taste of your best video and/or sound to draw the viewer in.  Doing umbrella leads is a more simplistic way to “get practice” before you really launch into fancy cold opens or “headers.”  You also use a more sophisticated type of umbrella lead to showcase multiple elements you have when designing team coverage.  So it is a good idea to do some umbrella leads to get those tease skills warmed up.  Best of all, umbrella leads can really help hold an audience through your a-block.  That alone can be a ratings win.  So give them a try.


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