Friday, April 28, 2006

What If Ron Howard Produced Your Show?

I’m mostly a generator but I like playing the role of reactor, too. So after reading an article titled “Investing Lessons From Hollywood” (kathy kristof, LA Times,, I substituted “Show Development” for “Investing” and came up with the following. Thanks, Kathy for the idea (her words and those of associate producer Alan Haft are in quotes).

“Keep It Simple. When pitching a screen play, you have two minutes… That means all the classic stories can be boiled down to a simple sentence. ‘E.T.’ was about a group of children who help a stranded alien return home, for instance.”

Our bits, contests and features should be able to be communicated in a sentence, too. “The greatest birthday gift you ever received.” “Two McGraws in a row wins the 9th caller two seats for the show.” “Weather and traffic together every ten minutes in the morning.” Think compression and your show will have a faster pace and greater momentum.

“Work Carefully…great directors (use) dozens of takes to get a scene right. It might seem like a lot of time and effort for a few seconds of footage, Haft said, but the right shadow can mean the difference between suspense and boredom.”

The extra time it takes to pre-produce a bit, add compelling audio, archive phone calls, and edit those calls so only the best parts are used, separates a show from a shift. A shift is for assembly line workers – same thing different day. Shows are made fresh and different on a daily basis. Shifts don’t take any time or effort. Shows require lots of both. Shifts aren’t memorable and neither are the people that do them. Big, fat, interesting, engaging shows are memorable, and so are the people that star in them.

“Plan. After a movie gets the green light, its screenplay is broken into dozens of elements, and producers draw up a plan for each. This planning can take years…but it makes a better movie.”

The further out you can plan components of your show, the more likely they are to be compelling. Finding the right phone call, arranging an interview, preparing a stunt, locating special music or sound-effects, and transforming “wouldn’t it be cool” ideas into actual on air components takes time, but the results can be magic. Planning is especially important if you’re ready for the next recommendations, diversification and structure.

“Diversify…studios don’t bet the bank on one genre.”

It takes a lot of different, moving parts to create 20-25 hours a week of must-hear radio. These can include exploiting the day’s hot topic, presenting listeners with a different perspective on something that’s a daily part of their lives, creating opportunities to display a sense of humor or even laugh out loud moments, giving listeners a ‘peek behind your curtain’ perhaps letting them see that you have a heart, presenting information, telling stories, and letting listeners be the stars of your show.

“Don’t reinvent the wheel… many great tales have a common structural foundation.”

Two thoughts: 1) know what you’re best at, and do it as often as you can, and 2) work with a structure but keep pouring fresh material into that structure.

Think about ‘The Late Show’ or ‘The Tonight Show.’ Both shows are highly structured with a monologue, recurring features, and special guests. The dialogue, features and guests change nightly, but the structure remains. Fresh material is poured nightly into the same mold.

Both Letterman and Leno know what they’re best at and capitalize on their best skill sets. The interest comes because they apply their consistent skills to a changing set of circumstances. You can observe the same structural philosophy in any good ensemble cast from ‘Seinfeld’ to ‘Bones.’ The circumstances and plot lines change, but the interest comes from how the characters’ basic behavioral traits deal with these changes.

Understand your strengths and exploit them. Use planning meetings and assignment lists to insure you’re gathering enough content to give your skills ample opportunities to shine. And employ a slotting sheet or other device to keep your structural framework in place and make it easy to pour in great content.

See if adopting some of Hollywood’s thinking could give your show additional ‘blockbuster’ status. Or just ask yourself, “What would Ron Howard do with my show?”