Want More Earned Broadcast Media? You Need to Know What a Producer Really Does Each Day.

Before I started working as a producer to help Fortune 500 companies and the public relations agencies who represent them create newsworthy story angles to get media exposure, I worked on the inside of daytime talk TV as a producer for infotainment and entertainment format shows. My career started in New York at ABC-TV and then I moved to Los Angeles where I also worked for ABC in addition to other networks including E! Entertainment Television.

Regis Philbin and Marianne Schwab: I was recently reunited with Regis Philbin on the set of Hallmark’s Home & Family when he was in Los Angeles guest hosting the show. I was a Segment Producer for Regis in New York and also produced his travel feature on the Orient Express for “Runaway with the Rich & Famous.”

Since I started producing broadcast public relations twenty years ago, I gotta tell you that not much has changed regarding the basics of how shows are produced. Oh, sure, there’s been a digital revolution and the technology is very different, but except for “email,” producers STILL get faxes, receive snail mail, and the anatomy of a television segment has remained the same. Content is still king.

The Segment Producer Drives the Content of Most Shows. There is a lot involved in making TV segments entertaining and informative and it revolves around the Segment Producer.  Under-standing their world will help you to develop better pitches for your client or product and increase your ability to get you or your client booked with earned media interviews.

 

There are many types of producers in television but the primary producer you will work with is usually the Segment Producer. Most shows have two to ten Segment Producers depending on the type of show (and unless you have a direct contact at a newsroom, you’ll want to contact the Assignment Desk, which will vet your pitch for producers).

“Glamorous” Behind-The-Scenes Photo: At my desk — working for Regis. Michael Gelman’s desk was to my left.

When I was a Segment Producer on talk shows and lifestyle programs, I would field tons of media pitches each week from publicists, book authors, business people, and professional experts wanting a shot at getting featured on my show.

The Segment Producer puts the television segment together from beginning to end, starting with weeding through hundreds of media pitches each week to determine what will make the most entertaining segments for their show. They will then take the very best story ideas and pitch them to the Executive Producer (and/or possibly the Supervising Producer), who will ultimately decide if a segment pitch makes it on the air.

What Happens When the Pitch is Approved. Once a segment is green-lighted by the Executive Producer, the Segment Producer will contact the person who pitched the segment to get more information and schedule the date. They will schedule a pre-interview with the guest to determine the best way to approach the segment, write the segment intro or suggested anchor lead, and prepare the questions the host will ask so that the story flows logically and organically.

Additionally, Segment Producers must ensure that all of the props are collected and delivered to the set, arrange for a field crew to shoot appropriate video to support or enhance the segment, and work with an editor to cut appropriate video clips from the field video (or promotional clips of the movie or TV show for celebrity guests) that will drive the segment for in-studio interviews.

Now, after I booked a guest for the shows I produced, I would work directly with the publicist and the guest to structure a three-to-five minute segment with the goal of making it informative, entertaining, and fun – the pleasing cocktail known as info-tainment. Then, prior to the guest’s appearance, we would go over how the segment would work (or flow) and I would media train them so that when they got in front of the camera with the show’s host, they aced the interview, product demo, or cooking demo (note that demos would always involve a rehearsal before the show).

Marianne Schwab and Jack Canfield. Discussing my book, The Insider’s Guide to Media Training, with one of the best-selling authors of all time, Jack Canfield.

One of my primary goals as a producer (then and now) is to make sure every guest looks and does their best on TV, since failure is not an option on LIVE television and my reputation as a producer (and often, my job) is on the line. Many Executive Producers (my bosses) were known to say, “You’re only as good as your last segment.” That comment has motivated me to keep producing the highest quality throughout my career and also help on-air talent and spokespersons fine tune their on-camera appearances with my media training services. In fact, my book, The Insider’s Guide to Media Training, was just published and has detailed strategies for acing interviews.

It takes a lot of preparation to make things look spontaneous on camera and, yes, nothing happens on a program without planning it, but we did manage to pull off a few surprises for celebrity guests that were genuine and good TV.

Producer’s Insider Tip: Write a suggested Q&A “script” with the suggested intro and suggested tag (along with suggested message points – “suggested” is “key”). This gives the Segment Producer a great starting point and then they’ll tweak the script (or not). Only do this when you’ve studied the show’s style and format since you will only “score points” with this IF you are not writing a “one size fits all” boiler-plate script template. Customize it. The daily life of a Segment Producer is very hectic so if you can lessen their workload by “pre-producing” the segment (and the segment fits their format along with being info-taining), then you’re on your way to building a great working relationship with that producer.

Know Taping Schedules for Shows. When you can, find out the taping schedule for the shows you’re pitching. Some shows tape daily and are LIVE while some tape five shows in two days. On a daily show, there is usually a meeting after the show to discuss the next day’s show (some shows, like Fox & Friends, do a pre-show meeting) and pitch new ideas for upcoming programs. Do not leave messages for producers when they are taping the show or in the daily meeting and do not send them emails during these times (unless you have a breaking news story that is relevant to their show). However, if you can get to them before the daily meeting and your pitch is good, that’s a sweet spot for the producer and then they can pitch it that day.  Time sensitive pitches can happen outside of meetings, but this is a general rule.

The preceding is actually just the short list of how things come together for daily shows, but hopefully, it will give you a quick overview of what is involved in producing a three-to-five minute segment for a television program.  I’m certain that this insider information will help you be more effective when pitching shows.  Best wishes for success!

Peace and coconuts,

Marianne Schwab, Executive Producer, CMP Media Cafe

Follow us on Twitter:  @CMP_MediaCafe

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