On the Spot! When anchors put reporters in uncomfortable positions on live TV.

I recently got a message posing this question:  “Why do anchors so often make strange comments at the end of live shots  that are nearly impossible for a reporter to gracefully respond to.”  Examples you ask? Okay, see if these sound familiar.  A live shot ends about something very sad, like a murder and the anchor says: “Great job, Joe Schmo, reporting live downtown.”  What’s great?  Someone died!  Another common scenario:  The reporter tags out with a fact like a vote scheduled in council tomorrow and the anchor parrots the very same fact like this: “You know Joe Schmo, the vote is tomorrow.” Joe the reporter is stuck thinking: “Yeah, idiot, I just said that.” and stares at the screen with a look of confusion.  The final example, Joe the reporter explains an element of the story in the live intro or within the package, wraps up, then on the two shot out the anchor asks about that same element, like it was never addressed.  The reporter is thinking: “Didn’t you listen to what I just said?”  Usually that quizzical look is on his face, on live TV.

So let’s look at why this happens, then try and keep it from happening again.  The “why” is usually tied to one of two things:

  1. The need for the last word, to tie things up and transition.
  2. Questions required in tags, by management, for interaction.

Let’s make it clear, in my experience, the need for the last word is not always an ego thing.  The anchor may not be trying to act all knowing.  Anchors often feel compelled to compliment reporters or reinforce team.  They sometimes just don’t have very good timing.  Hence the “Great job Joe Schmo” comments after a story about a murder.  Instead of focusing on the story, the anchor is complimenting the reporter and it just comes off as weird.  The intentions are good, but it doesn’t make the reporter feel complimented at all and leaves the viewers wondering what just happened.

Often anchors are ordered to make say something out of live shots, while in a double box.  This can be mandated by management or producers who are taught to start and end live shots on double boxes, period.  Sometimes this leads to the anchor getting stuck with nothing relevant to say while trying to transition.  The end result is a weird comment parroting back facts the reporter just said and hoping it sounds different enough that it passes for a real reaction.

While we are on the subject of double box live tag outs, producers take note, scripting “Thanks Joe Schmo” is not always the best route.  It sets up the inane comment scenario.  Suggestion:  Tell the anchor to call the reporter and ask for a factoid they can bring up in the double box.

Notice, I did not say ask for a question.  That call should vary depending on the story and what the reporter knows about the subject.  Often the most uncomfortable moments between an anchor and reporter are during a q and a in a live tag.  Over time, I saw these q and a’s go awry most often when management required a question coming out of every live shot.  I could (and probably will) go on and on about why scripting tag questions every time is bad in a future article.  For now a summary:   Sometimes it makes sense to ask a question, sometimes it is better to share a factoid the anchor can state quickly for emphasis.  Both the reporter and anchor should not be blindsided.  These double box interactions work best if the reporter and anchor can work them out together.  Also, don’t be afraid to end a live shot, then do a two shot transition to a new subject.  You can create team interactions other ways.  Something like this:

((Joe Bob – 2 shot))

Thanks Joe Schmo, Suzie, there’s a similar situation in Atlanta tonight.

((Suzie Q -2 shot))

There is  Joe… and it’s causing problems for a lot of people.

((Suzie turns to 1 shot))

See Anchor’s don’t have chemistry for more on how to work these two shot transitions.

Now, let’s look at more solutions to prevent these “on the spot” moments.  Anchors, it is human nature to want to tie up a conversation with a thank you or a compliment.  Just be cognizant of what the subject is about.  Think about talking with a friend about a tragedy in his/her life, the end of the conversation might be silence.  It might also be a shake of the head.  That is appropriate at the end of a live shot as long as you are really feeling the emotion.  If you are just plain uncomfortable, ask the producer not to script a two shot for that particular tag and explain that you are uncomfortable.  Just remember, if the subject is heavy, that is not the time to tell the reporter “Great job.”  Send a text after the show instead.  Reporters, if the anchor does say great job, nodding your head and saying nothing else is fine.  Reporters also do not have to have the last word.  Let the emotion ride a second in the silence.  It may seem counterintuitive in a business where you are paid to talk, but it is more natural to the way we communicate in the real world.

If the anchor asks about something the reporter just said, it is best for the reporter to briefly summarize with an added tidbit.  You might say, “Yes Suzie, that council vote I referenced earlier will be at 7, and they’re expecting a big crowd, so you might want to come early if you want a seat.”  This lessens the “Huh, he already said that!” blow.  If you cannot add anything when you summarize, just say “That’s right.” and wrap.

Finally, if the anchor says something really out there and you don’t know what to do, just sig out.  Viewers are used to seeing reporters not react to things anchors say and will likely assume you couldn’t hear the anchor or there was a technical difficulty.  That assumption, and slightly tense moment is better than fumbling through a response that just doesn’t make sense and/or being visibly uncomfortable.  Then make sure the producer knows what happened, so everyone can trouble shoot in the future.  Bottom line, there needs to be communication between anchors, producers and reporters to avoid putting a reporter “on the spot” the next night.