Scripts please! The show is about to air, and the producer is still writing!

This is a common reality, especially for morning shows, no matter the market size.  Not having the show ready at airtime is a big strain on anchors and producers.  You simply should not be writing content during a live show unless there’s breaking news.  Too much can go wrong.  Producers if you are having problems getting your newscast written in time, look at Bottom’s up.  Another article is coming soon to help further.  This article is going to focus on the anchors.  They have to make up for the fact they will be reading content “cold.”  Here’s how to keep from stumbling and fumbling your way through.

1)      Get very familiar with facts in the stories

2)      Write notes for yourself

3)      When possible dive in and write

4)      Read a block ahead, to fix mistakes

5)      Consider reading copy even if there are minor mistakes, then demand corrections for later hits

Recently an anchor wrote us a great article on the art of adlib, in it he asked the question, how much of a newscast do you really know?  Could you talk your way through with no scripts.  This is very important.  Morning show anchors do have the ability to become familiar with news content, especially since so many of the scripts are rewrites from the night before.  Get comfortable with the facts of as many stories as you can.  That way if you get stuck, you can get by.

Some anchors I’ve worked with wrote notes or outlines of stories that they guessed were not going to be written in time and included them in their scripts.  Think of these outlines like you would bullet points for a live shot.  No, you probably won’t have time to write these outlines for a lot of stories, but even a few can really help if your producer is chronically in the weeds.  The anchors that I would see do this waited until about a half hour before air, then wrote as many outlines as possible.  Look at the rundown, if the producer tends to wait to write the b-block until the newscast starts, try and outline a few of your anchor reads in that block.  At least you have something to lean on.  Look for the big gaps, and throw a little something in here and there to help.

If you are an hour before air and there’re a lot of empty pages in the rundown, dive in and write.  No you should not have to do this.  (That’s another article.)  Bottom line, help yourself so you don’t get screwed.  Just quit writing full story copy in time to proof what is there, so you have sections of the newscast where you feel comfortable.  I recommend keeping a list of how many scripts you had to dive in and write, and when appropriate talk with your manager about the issue.  Also, make sure you give yourself a chance to relax, take a breath and be ready to present.  Too often anchors end up slamming copy until the last second, run to the set and come across as uncomfortable right off the top of the show.  You have to protect your role in the newscast and your role is to be smooth, authoritative and in command.  Stop writing and helping in time to do what you need to do to be comfortable on set.  If you have some outlines and wrote some copy, you will be okay.  Give yourself a chance to be composed and relaxed before stepping on the set.

Once the newscast starts, use commercial breaks, packages and weather hits to read at least a block ahead.  This is the advice talent consultants give all the time.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.  Unfortunately, when a lot of scripts are written last minute, there are a lot of clarification questions, timing issues and other problems.  Those mean you have to “stop down” and listen to a list of changes during breaks.  Do what you can.

Finally, if you end up having to read copy “cold,” try not to get bogged down changing errors live, as you see them coming up in prompter, unless you are familiar with the story content and know you can do it smoothly.  As counterintuitive as it sounds, it is better to read the bad copy smoothly on-air, then demand a fact recheck and/or rewrite for later hits in the newscast.  This advice applies more to morning shows which are often plagued with strings of script errors that tend to be carried forward from hour-to-hour.  It can be difficult to change a bunch of issues live and “on the fly.”  If you end up stumbling, chances are management will blame you instead of the producer.  It may not be right, but I saw it happen time and again.  It is wrong on management’s part, but its reality and it does happen.  Better to push through, keep your trouble riddled scripts, then go to management after the newscast and show how many errors were in the newscasts.  Change what you realistically can, but stay smooth, authoritative and commanding on-air.  I know this is very uncomfortable and feels wrong, but when you are stuck with a producing team that cannot get its newscasts written in time, you the anchor can only do so much.  Your job is to make the information look good on-air.  That means smooth reads, period.  Management needs to fix the underlying problem so you can do your job better.  If management refuses, you know you aren’t working for a quality organization and need to take steps to protect yourself.