Monthly Archives: November 2008

Friday noir

Why's it gotta be "black" Friday?  Justin Gray, WAGA

Why's it gotta be "black" Friday? Justin Gray, WAGA

“Black Friday” is a term only recently introduced into the media lexicon.  The busiest-shopping-day ever phenomenon is generations old.  But the term — and the tendency of stores to encourage pre-dawn shopping — are 21st century developments.   Can’t say that either of them advances the human condition one iota.

Likewise, this increasingly insidious phenomenon keeps legions of high-seniority TV reporters at work during what should be a laid-back holiday.  Sadly for them, the retailers of America are now governing their schedules.  Now, the best Black Friday stories are the ones you probably aren’t watching — the ones that appear on morning or noon newscasts.

It’s a good story to cover.  It’s mostly a one-stop shop.  The story subjects are usually in good humor and willing to be interviewed.  The competitive threshold is low.  The challenge is delivering a story that isn’t completely predictable.  Half the battle is finding interviewees who are interesting.  One oddball character can often make the difference between a ho-hum piece and a memorable Black Friday story.

Geeked up on mimosas and tryptophan, we choked down ten Black Friday stories– a fraction of the content delivered by the four Atlanta TV stations.  Noteworthy:

Justin Gray’s piece on WAGA at noon Friday was the best of the bunch.  Sharply written and edited, its narrative included the overnight buildup through the moment that a NW Atlanta Wal-Mart opened its doors and beyond.   Gray’s piece was the most thoughtfully produced that we saw.  Plus, he lucked into a shopper who was hilariously obsessed with buying a 32″ flat screen TV.  Grade:  B+

No time, pal.  Julie Wolfe, WXIA

No time, pal. Julie Wolfe, WXIA

Tony McNary’s story on WGCL Wednesday night had a couple of not-so-predictable moments.   He was with a line full of folks awaiting the opening of a Best Buy store.  One of them admitted to showing up at 4am Wednesday to form the queue.  It took 14 hours for another shopper to join her.  D’oh!  McNary also found a shopper who was amusingly incredulous that all those folks would waste their time in a line for a store to open.  Grade:  B

At WXIA, Julie Wolfe pulled an overnight shift and for her effort, delivered a vo/sot at Discover Mills at 6:30am or so.  Wolfe is a talented package producer, but we could only find this vo/sot on WXIA’s website.  It concluded with an amusing and awkward encounter with Santa, who strolled into her shot as she concluded, apparently expecting to be interviewed.  Wolfe had to explain to the Old Elf that she was out of time, but would get around to it later.  Grade:  Incomplete.

WSB’s Tiffany Reynolds produced a piece shot at the outlet mall in Dawsonville, an above-and-beyond distance to travel for a Black Friday story.  It was a worthwhile locale; the video gave the story a more energetic feel than we saw in most other pieces.  Too bad there were no interesting characters in it.  Grade:  B-

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

Valerie Hoff, WXIA

With WXIA’s newscast-deadening obsession with live vo/sots, Valerie Hoff took advantage of the lighter workload by procuring a hard-to-find toy for her son, and displaying it in a live shot at noon Friday.  Hoff played it straight, but anchor Jill Becker called her out on it.  Hopefully, Hoff is among the many TV newsies who don’t allow their young children to watch their product.  Grade:  Busted.

Fuzzy Wuzzy

It’s time to give thanks for the November sweeps.  In this case, our blessing is for those “special” reports the Atlanta TV stations opted not to do.

It’s like this.  While

  • WSB and WAGA dueled over Gena Evans’ e-mails and boyfriends;
  • WSB one-upped WGCL on the wasteful business of garbage collection;
  • WGCL half-heartedly tried to prove the existence of God, and
  • WXIA employed FM disk jockeys as election analysts;

… a TV station in Connecticut ground out this bit of silly crapulence:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

But that piece isn’t as low-down as the one that follows from LA.  And by “low,” we mean physiologically as well as journalistically.  “It’s for that area down there.”  Cast thine eyes downward and behold:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

The story was kinda weird yet predictable.  We like the clips from whatever TV show that is.  Our biggest gripe is the bed of music in the background.  “Pretty Woman” is generic.  “Fuzzy Wuzzy” is specific, and one of the best jams by Luna.

We conclude with our word of thanks:  Hurray for the Atlanta TV stations.  They notoriously copy sweeps pieces from other markets.  They apparently declined to snip off these two.  Good for them.  Happy Thanksgiving.

H/T to an anonymous LAF reader.  Send us stuff.  Contact info is to the right.

The death of whimsy

Kim Fettig, WGCL (and friends)

Kim Fettig, WGCL (and friends)

It’s encouraging to see the occasional feature story pop up on local news.  It doesn’t happen often.  Two caught our eye recently.  Both were great concepts, yet both were just too damned serious.

OK, we kinda get it.  “Serious” is what you, as a journalist, do.  You have a weighty responsibility to be accurate and perhaps even educational.  It’s risky enough to deliver a feature in a local news market that demands “live, local, and late breaking.”  In some markets, news directors refer to features as “the F word.”  Dare to pitch a feature in the morning meeting, and it’s an almost sure-fire way to find yourself on the grimmest, ugliest breaking news by 5 and 6pm.

But suppose you’ve sold a story to your local news managers on urbanites who increasingly keep chickens in their in-town back yards.  Kim Fettig apparently did so at WGCL.  She delivered an informative and nicely shot-and-edited piece on exactly that.  Yet when Fettig wrote the piece, she wrote it as one might write a standard-issue consumer story:  Full of facts and helpful narrative, yet utterly lacking in the sheer sense of weirdness one has a right to expect when watching a story about chickens in the city.

(We also kept waiting for Fettig to interview a neighbor who might have a thing or two to say about the crowing of roosters at the crack of dawn every day.  No such luck.)

Randy Waters, WXIA

Rooftop view: Randy Waters, WXIA

At WXIA, Randy Waters came somewhat closer to our expectations when he delivered a piece on the folks who wash the windows of skyscrapers.  Waters was less about weirdness than he was about horror, and that’s OK.  But like Fettig, he wrote his piece as one might write a how-to instructional video.  We would have liked to have seen a line or two about the moment of truth when one’s life is entrusted into a boy-scout knot tied to a roof.  Waters’ piece was also very nicely shot and edited– WXIA even dispatched a helicopter for some aeriels.  (We especially liked the wide shot from inside the hotel room as the window washer dropped out of sight.  It’s good to see WXIA hasn’t completely lost its NPPA chops.)

Obviously, Waters and Fettig had fun shooting the pieces.  But it was almost as if they were afraid to have fun writing them  Our hope:  Maybe they both wrote whacky pieces, but their uptight managers reined them in.  If so, too bad.

Despite our headline, whimsy isn’t dead.  It appears frequently in Marc Pickard’s Earthwatch pieces on WXIA.  You can see hints of it in Mark Hyman and Sarah Parker’s stuff on WAGA and WGCL’s morning shows.  WSB’s Jeff Dore often manages to sneak it into his general assignment reporting.

Fettig and Waters’ pieces were better-than-average local TV news pieces.  We’d give Fettig a grade of B-, and Waters a grade of B. The A was within their grasp, but they let it slip away.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “ | Atlanta, GA | Video“, posted with vodpod

Schmuck alert!

Schmuck Alert is the name of the new blog created by the High Point NC news photog known as Lenslinger.  The blog is chock full of great entertainment, cautionary tales and the exposure of some of the world’s dopiest dipsh!ts.

There is a common theme here:  These are the folks who abuse the working press, and don’t have the smarts to do it outside of the range of a rolling video camera.  When you need to escape from the upcoming holiday, check it out and prepare to linger.  It’s a laugh riot, fueled by the wickedly-written prose of WGHP-TV’s Stewart Pittman, who also writes Viewfinder Blues.  Here is but one example from Schmuck Alert! (but beware the F-word):

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Viewfinder BLUES“, posted with vodpod

The ultimate tough question

Jennifer Mayerle, WGCL

In too deep: Jennifer Mayerle, WGCL

Last week, WGCL produced what may be the oddest November sweeps piece of the month:  Jennifer Mayerle’s report on whether God exists.  She traveled to Tulane University, where a professor says that he can scientifically prove the existence of God.

Mayerle’s piece was stylish and interesting.  It was stylish because of its editing, juxtaposing the professor’s chalkboard scrawl of mathematical formulas with religious images.  It was interesting because of the buildup.  The professor was a non-believer turned Christian because, he said, he had found the proof he’d sought.  “Physics just says, God exists,” Frank Tipler tells Mayerle.  “God is the singularity,” he says, as if that explains it.

But what was the proof?  Mayerle’s piece utterly failed to answer the central question, and did so with the professor’s ultimate cop-out:  “I can’t explain in five minutes something that took me twenty years to learn.”  Mayerle’s piece concludes with that soundbite.  It leaves the viewer feeling a bit cheated.  Not that any viewer would actually turn to local TV news for validation of faith.

WGCL does deserve some credit for giving a little thoughtful attention to a tough TV subject.  It’s not a typical sweeps product.  Mayerle’s piece still had some depth, attained by her interviews with other theologians who told her that it was kinda silly to try to prove God’s existence through science.

But if the TV station says it’s going to “ask the tough question” — and then build an entire story around it — then it’s obligated to at least try to get an answer from the one guy who claims to have it and can prove it.  No such luck here. Grade: C

Slashing prices and faces

Does this look like an upgrade?

Does this look like an upgrade?

We approve of WGCL’s investigation into what sounds like a drive-through plastic surgery clinic in Atlanta, with branches across America.  WGCL says it spent three months looking into complaints about “The Lifestyle Lift.”  The story, produced by Michelle Glorieux and fronted by anchor Stephany Fisher, describes a clinic for patients who want Cher results but can’t afford Cher prices.  A cut-rate clinic, as it were.

The process sounds a bit grisly.  You walk in one day, get scheduled for surgery the next day.  The patient is then herded into a room with other freshly cut-and-bandaged patients.  Then, they’re shown the door en masse.  One woman laments on camera that her jowls and turkey-neck remained despite the surgery.  The video is certainly convincing.

Smooth operator  Dr. David Kent

Smooth operator: Dr. David Kent

This piece is also an excellent example for folks boning up on their bad PR skills.  The clinic offered the clinic’s owner, David Kent, for an interview with WGCL.  A smooth-talking and rather condescending-sounding sort, he offered to fix the turkey-neck lady with a return visit.  (She says she’s afraid to return and wants a refund instead.)  He explained that his is a discount operation, so to speak.  The implied message is that you get what you pay for.

But then the owner bailed out on the interview, midway as Fisher was asking “the tough questions.”  The on-camera walk-off made Kent look like a weasel and undid whatever damage control he might have sought to do by consenting to the interview.  (We have to give a finger-wag to the photog behind Kent, though.  He’s wrapping his mic wire, while he ought to be shooting the interviewee stalking off.  Good thing his counterpart in the two-camera shoot had the presence of mind to widen the shot and keep rolling.)

Our only complaint:  WGCL put a bed of music under the first part of its investigative series.  Call us old fashioned, but Mike Wallace or Lesley Stahl never did that at 60 Minutes.  It’s cheesy and unnecessary.  But overall, this is a solid consumer / health investigation, the kind of stuff that audience research shows is a winner on local TV news.   Grade:  A-


Until recently, TV news was the least permanent medium.  A broadcast viewed through the rabbit ears one moment was scattered into a gazillion radio frequency bits headed to Pluto the next.  Mistake?  Hope nobody noticed.  Blooper?  Preserved, only if some smart aleck happened to be videotaping it and made a copy.

Melissa Sanders’ unfortunate plunge on WAGA more than a decade ago preceded the Youtube age.  But the blooper had already had currency as a videotaped outtake.  Then, somebody uploaded it to Youtube and it gained a measure of permanence.  But immortality comes when a TV news clip somehow becomes part of the culture.   Last weekend, the show known as the Family Guy gave this local news clip animation immortality:

(Looks like Fox has pulled the clip from Youtube.  Try here instead.  If that doesn’t work, and if you can endure a Fox promo first, you can view the Family Guy clip here.)

The original clip has gotten 550,000 plus views on Youtube.  Saturday Night Live also did a brief spoof, with Scarlett Johansen playing the part of “the grape stomping lady.”  (H/T to Rodney Ho for finding this on Youtube…)

Here’s the original in all its ugly glory, as shot by WAGA photog Gus Valdes.  Who knew that this clip would get this kind of immortality?

(Btw, aside from knocking the wind out of her, the fall tore Sanders’ anterior cruciate ligament.  She left WAGA a few months later.  We don’t know her current whereabouts, except as a permanent presence in cyberspace.)

View from a control room

From Newsource 15's web site

Newsource 15's control room. Photo from UGA's web site.

A fringe benefit of working at a TV station is the opportunity to invite yourself into the control room during a live broadcast.  The draw is the madcap entertainment.  Sometimes it’s sheer bedlam. More often than not, the show behind the scenes is far superior to the one being produced for TV.  Last week we visited the control room of “Newsource 15,” the Athens cable channel newscast produced by UGA students.  Here are some sights and sounds, with a name changed to protect the innocent and impressionable:

“Get that crap off the wall!  It looks awful!” Uttered by a faculty adviser after a student delivered a package intro from the newsroom.  The adviser was distressed by some paper that had been sloppily taped to a wall near the assignment board.

“Take a step to the right.”  (Student moves the wrong way.)  “Camera right!”  (Student looks puzzled.)  “Your left!” The same faculty adviser, via earpiece, to a student in the studio.

“We’re gonna have to cut commercials.” The student producer in the control room, realizing her newscast was going too long.

“No!  You cannot cut commercials.  You can’t cut commercials.” The faculty adviser, schooling the producer.

“Ohhhh- [Pat’s] making faces!” A director, talking about the weathercaster during a three-shot with the other studio talent.  The weathercaster had been told to abbreviate the segment due to lack of time, then got an early wrap.  The remark occurred after the weathercaster finished.

“Say goodbye!” The faculty adviser, via earpiece, to one of the anchors as time ran out.  “Hope y’all join us tomorrow,” the student concluded as the picture went to black.

“Views expressed do not represent the administration, the Board of Regents or the University of Georgia.” Audio disclaimer played at the end of every newscast.

Item: Of the six students who appeared in the half-hour newscast, five were women.

Item: UGA now feeds its choicest student packages to WNEG-TV Toccoa, which re-broadcasts them in a newscast fronted by former WAGA and WXIA anchor Chuck Moore.

Item: UGA now owns WNEG, and is looking for a news director.  Salary:  $45,000 or so.  Seriously.  And you re-locate to Toccoa.

The pole dancing news anchor

Not Blondie-- or Bettie Page  Suchita Vadlamani, WAGA

Not Blondie-- or Bettie Page: Suchita Vadlamani, WAGA

We’re not going to cluck and turn up our noses at the fact that WAGA sent one of its news anchors to a pole dancing school for a November sweeps story.  We’re not going to stand in judgment, nor spout pithy homilies about the lengths to which TV stations will go to find an audience, any audience.  You’ll get none of that here.

And we’ll post a link, here.  Go ahead.  We see you clicking.  We’ll wait.

Finished?  Now, we’ll analyze what we saw, and didn’t see.

Here’s what stands out:  Suchita Vadlamani managed to do a pole dancing story without mentioning or even hinting at the fact that the regimen is rooted in burlesque.  Or “adult entertainment.”  Or stripping.

We suspect that she followed an edict issued from on high.  A couple of decades ago, TV news couldn’t get enough of strippers and news about them.  We recall producing, like, a six- or eight-part series about Atlanta’s “adult entertainment” industry in the early 90s.  That stuff went away overnight one day, about mid-way through Bill Clinton’s presidency.  A weird new puritanical mindset kicked in, not that it was a bad thing.

Yet Vadlamani has it both ways.  There she is in high heels, wrapping her legs around a pole.  Why the high heels?  She doesn’t say “because strippers wear them.”  And the bed of music is evocative (best we can remember…) of the stuff DJs play at strip joints.  But it’s never acknowledged.

WAGA probably knew that to do so would invite some smart aleck to say what we aren’t saying:  “Hey — your news anchor was kinda actin’ like a stripper on tha TV!”

Notice how Mark Hayes and Jeff Hill also manage to avoid saying something similar afterward.  Smart guys.  Yet, you can see that Hayes had to summon all of his powers of restraint.  He barely succeeded.

In that spirit, we will restrain ourselves from giving this story a grade.  Too many double entendres come to mind.  You’ll get none of that here today.

Now if you don’t mind, we’re going to switch back to the 700 Club.

H/T to an anonymous LAF reader.  Holler at us if you see comparably worthy.  Contact info is to the right.