READING THE TEA LEAVES
You have a beautiful, award-winning, and very sweet female news anchor. You have a great reporter and established hard news weekend anchor/reporter. You have a veteran, award-winning reporter. You decide to throw them all into what KEYE-TV (CBS) calls a lifestyle show at 4 p.m.
What do you get? Well, I hope it gets better. It’s not my cup of tea. Perhaps I’m not the right demographic, but I’m having a heck of a time trying to figure out who is the demographic for this new hour-long broadcast called “We Are Austin Live”.
Give points for being different. Anchors Michelle Valles and Jason Wheeler open the show live on the station’s patio (Yeah, they have a patio.) Immediately, Valles commits one of my language arts sins: She says the show is going to be “centered around “ things Austin. No. No. One cannot be “centered around”. One can be centered on, but that’s nit-picky.
At 4:01 p.m. they toss to their lead story—the story that is going to grab viewers by the face, freeze their hand next to the remote, and carry them further into the show. The lead story was a live shot with veteran reporter Bettie Cross at a place called the Tea Embassy. Live for the next two deadly minutes, she discusses different types of teas with a guest. He kept showing us bowls of tea leaves. I could read them.
Everything I’ve ever learned about story telling for TV is that you lead with your strongest, most compelling video to engage viewers and want them to hang around. This applies to producing a TV show or writing a story. Tea leaves in a bowl doesn’t cut it. Bettie Cross did the best she could with what she had.
After that segment there was cross-talk with Michelle and Jason. They tossed to news. Ron Oliveira did two minutes of news from the anchor desk. Then, they tossed to Troy Kimmel for one minute of weather each hour.
That’s the way this hour-long show started and continued in the second half-hour. Now, let’s break it down. There were 18-minutes of commercials, counting the end break. That leaves 42 minutes for other stuff. Although it seemed like more, there was about five minutes of Bettie Cross in the first and second half hours talking about tea. There were about two minutes of news in each half hour segment for news with Ron. A total of FOUR minutes for an hour show! That’s all the news there was. There were carbon copy live shots from Stephanie Serna in each half hour about a child pornography case. (At 5 KXAN had the mother of the children in question. KEYE did not—probably an instance of trying to do more with less.) Troy Kimmel had four or so, not counting “bumps”, for weather totaling around four minutes.
So, what did the show have otherwise?
The mantra always is: Content equals Ratings. So, what was the content? Well, it was very, very commercial. Guests included segments each half hour with folks from Sea World in San Antonio, a fashion expert from Macy’s, the Tea Embassy, and The Lofty Dog, a store for dog stuff in downtown Austin. She was really the best guest, but I don’t remember seeing a live dog in the story! Gotta have at least one live dog!!!
There were the two tea store stories. Again, Bettie Cross did the best that she could with what she had. I’m sorry. It could have been a good newspaper or magazine story. I mean, the tea leaves just sat there in the bowls. Even when they steeped them, the fragrance did not translate to TV.
And, yes, they had animals from Sea World. OK, animals can work on TV. The live hit in the first segment included a nasty-looking lizard and a boa. The second hit was with an owl and a wallaby. Michelle commented that looking at an owl in the Mexican culture was bad luck. The wallaby was cute, but it just sat there. Michelle played with it at the end of the show.
Toward the end, they had a live barbershop quartet. They sang into the break after about two minutes. To my way of thinking, Michelle and Jason could have spent a productive five minutes with them talking about the tradition of barbershop quartet singing. They could have let them sing and sing.
OK. They need to settle down. They needed a stronger lead. They used five locations. They popped up pictures from their downtown camera. They were all over the place. It was very fast paced—too fast. Michelle sounded and acted like she was on “Entertainment Tonight”. Jason, a yeoman, seemed uncomfortable.
In creating this program, KEYE killed its 5 O’clock hard news broadcast. “Austin Live” is followed by “Insider” and the CBS network news. This, viewers, may be the future. If the networks pull the plug on local stations, local stations will have to come up with inexpensive stuff to feed the beast. The beast must be fed every day.
This was billed as a lifestyle show. Whose lifestyle? Who is the audience? It was not my cup of tea.
© Jim McNabb, 2009