And if you must keep talking, please try to make it rhyme.
Because your mind is on vacation, and your mouth is working overtime.
- Mose Allison
As a youth, I devotedly watched NBC’s Today. At around the time when the Hugh Downs / Barbara Walters crew transitioned to Tom Brokaw / Jane Pauley, I would always take note of NBC newsman Edwin Newman’s contributions to the broadcast. Newman was a hard-news guy with a clever touch. Once I saw Newman sit on the set and read a yearender rhyme he’d written. I thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.
When Pauley left Today, I stopped watching. But I remained a Newman devotee as I waded into the quagmire of my own TV news career. As I became a dad, I appreciated the technique of Dr. Seuss. But I can’t recall writing any rhymes of my own until a Christmas Eve in the late 80s.
I was working at WAGA. There was no news, per se. I asked a producer named Cindy Glozier if I could interest her in a rhyming story about the stylings of decorative plastic Santas. Glozier embraced it, with a caveat: You can’t just write a rhyme. You’ve got to incorporate sound from interviewees. It went without saying that the sound had to be naturally-occurring; in other words, I couldn’t coach interviewees into saying stuff that rhymed with my prose. I had to shape the voice track to accommodate the sound. The rules of news still applied.
The late Tony Small and I prowled around for plastic Santas. I wrote some lines in a notebook. We interviewed folks about their plastic Santas and slammed it together for the 11pm show. As it aired, I stood alongside Sandra Davenport, WAGA’s tape coordinator, and watched it in a feedbay monitor. Whenever the rhymes clicked, Sandra loudly whooped.
Almost nobody whoops at local TV news stories. I was hooked.
After Glozier improbably left WAGA for a start-up news operation then called WGNX, my pitches for rhyming stories became a tougher sell. There’s almost nothing worse than a poorly-executed rhyme, and the fear of embarrassment always loomed. “You’re no e.e. cummings,” EP Mark Shavin once told me, only half-kidding.
I produced fewer than a half-dozen rhyming pieces in my 21 years at WAGA. I found the rhyme useful for pieces that otherwise lacked coherent storylines. In the late 90s, photog Rodney Hall solo shot a piece on DOT employees who pick up trash alongside highways. Hall’s video sat in my drawer for a couple of weeks as I wracked my brain to figure out a way to make it interesting. I decided to turn it into a rhyme. I recall that it inexplicably won an Emmy.
I’m pretty sure that was my final rhyming piece at WAGA. By then, my pitches to produce rhymes had become a bit of a standing punch line.
Fast-forward to Christmas Eve 2010. Without divulging fully the details of my sordid background as a Theodor Giesel / Edwin Newman wannabe, I pitched a rhyming story to the morning meeting at WXIA. Again, there was little real news. They bought it.
I scratched out a few lines that morning, and continued to shape it though the day. I’d found a helpful site called Rhyme Zone. If you need to write a rhyme quickly, it’s pretty essential.
Richard Crabbe and I produced the piece for the 7pm newscast. It’s embedded at the top of this post.
Late that morning, I sent a rare e-mail across enemy lines to Shavin at WAGA, gloating that I’d found a fresh audience for my rhymes. He good-naturedly fired back the following:
There once was a reporter named Doug
Who was told to cover some thug.
“But I’ve got a nice rhyme
And it works every time,
Plus, it’s like a big holiday hug.”
– haiku version below –
Must work holiday
Depressing me to no end
Trite rhyme could lift mood.
He could have just said: “You’re no Edwin Newman.”