Anchor an Alliance: Stroke the hand that feeds you.

When anchors get together to talk and trade stories, silly positions they are put in while on the air is a hot topic.  Usually complaining about awful things producers wrote, or uncomfortable transitions producers created, leads to many laughs and personal jokes.  Then there are the war stories about the “screamers” in your ear.  It is true:  Producers can put you in really bad positions at times.  Yet, your producer can make or break you at a particular station.  So how do you form an alliance to make sure you’re on the good side of that equation?

Here’s what many producers would love to see from you, so you can stroke the hand that feeds you on air.  Often the producer will not directly ask for these things because they feel it isn’t their place to do so.  If you can provide them these simple things, you will get a loyal ally.

Let the producer know you have his/her back.  Most producers naturally assume that the anchor is on the defensive, and will put blame on the producer for any mistake the anchor makes on air.  Frankly, this is because most producers get called in when an anchor is “not performing” to management’s standards and are told they are to blame.  This makes producers want to keep a safe distance from their anchors.

So how do you bring this defensive wall down?  Take responsibility for some of the mistakes on air in front of the producer and in front of management.  Whoa, you say: “This could make me vulnerable! “  Not necessarily.   Do it during discrep meetings.  Other staffers will see , so will an EP or the AND, but most importantly the producer will see it in a public setting.  Things like, “I didn’t get a chance to rework a paragraph in story such and such and stumbled today, sorry guys.” or “I forgot to get an interesting fact from so and so meteorologist for the pitch so it would flow, so I apologize if I rambled.”  or “I forgot we were switching to two shots at the top of the c-block, I’ll remember now.”  Here’s what usually happens when you head home, the producer and associate producer or the producer and director stays late and looks for ways to help you (a) not have to rewrite a paragraph, (b) make it easier for you to find a factoid to pitch to weather next time (c) sit down with the TD or camera crew to remind them to remind you about the new two shot.  If you come across as humble and trying to help, you will win a huge ally that will bend over backwards for you every day.  No, the producer won’t always get it right.  But chances are you will get more apologies and more mea culpas from the producer as well.  You might even get to weigh in on news copy and formatting changes more often before air.

Producers also want you helping out leading up to the newscast.  No, you do not need to write the entire show.  If the producer is worth a bean, he/she thrives on taking ownership and writing most of the show.  Still, having an anchor “check in” once or twice leading up to a newscast offering to help write is seen as a huge sign of respect.  Some producers will assign you a story, some will use this as an opportunity for a gut check on something they are worried about.  Some will tell you to hop in and write whatever you want.  All will respect you for helping to build the newscast, not just wanting to read it on TV.

Many times when anchors compliment producers, they talk about producers designing segments with the anchor’s voice in mind.  (See Producer Voice )  This can be hard for the producer to do, if they don’t know much about you.  We will dedicate an article on techniques to help producers write in your voice more in depth later, but for now let’s talk basics so you can help producers.  The producer needs an idea of who you are as a person, and what kind of stories you really like.  I had an anchor once that was very interested in travel and airlines.  So I would purposely put pacers in about the airlines because his energy level would boost every time he read one.  Frankly, some of the stories were boring and I questioned viewer benefit.  But his energy would pop so much, it was worth giving up 15 seconds.   Another anchor loved political news so most of the time he would get the interview segments about campaign issues.  He was well read and thought of much better questions than I could.  Another anchor of mine had an incredible mind for health issues.  She knew all the latest trends and could really tell if a news release was a PR stunt or true medical breakthrough for the area.  I would call her when she came in and was settled for the day and ask what she thought of various stories to put in the newscast.  I knew these things because the anchors would chat me up about them when we waited for the editorial meetings to start.   These anchors didn’t sit me down for huge philosophical discussions, they just clued me into their interests at an opportune time in my day when I could actually listen.

If you see a mistake, bring it to the producer’s attention in a respectful way. We delve more into this in our article, “Throw me a lifeline” but this is a crucial reminder.  If you want a loyal ally, do not make fun of news copy or uncomfortable transition lines on the set during the show with the other anchor.  Chances are the producer heard the bad writing or bad transition and is beating him/herself up about it already.  To hear you poke fun just puts salt in the wound especially because you are doing so in front of people the producer has to help manage during the newscasts.  Basically, it feels like you cut the producer off at the knees.  The production crew may laugh with you, but they don’t respect you for it either.  Remember, you also aren’t perfect.  They see you stumble, and occasionally make dumb comments.   If you want those moments to pass, don’t bring up other people’s mistakes publicly.

Finally, remember that compliments are powerful.   Producers do not get to go out in public and be told how great the newscast is.  In many shops it’s a rare thing for management to throw a compliment the producer’s way.  To hear from you occasionally, about a segment you liked or something nice a viewer told you, really means a lot.  The producer feels like you respect him/her as a part of your success as well.  It helps you “anchor” an alliance that really can boost your career.