Behaving Badly on TV

Expanding my reach and audience of this blog has been one of my central focuses these last couple of months.  To rehash, in late December I had my first radio spot on The Schilling Show.  For readers of The Daily News Record, another of my pieces appears in the opinion section of Monday’s newspaper.  But what about television?  With the exception of a brief segment during the 2006 campaign, I’ve never been on TV.  Therefore, I decided that I should take the time to learn more about this medium.

This most recent Friday, January 14, I drove up to Arlington to participate in one of The Leadership Institute’s training sessions.  This particular one was called “Television Workshop, On-camera”.  Unfortunately, due to the more or less complete urbanization of Arlington, parking was proving to be a bit of a challenge until the folks at LI directed me to a public parking garage.  All in all, the workshop lasted a little over three hours.  We did cover quite a bit of material including: what to wear, how to present yourself, and what to say.  I’m not going to address those topics here.  If you want to learn more about those issues, I would highly recommend attending the workshop yourself.

What I do want to talk about, however, is the tone they recommend adopting for TV.  I can only describe the attitude as the worst aspects of political television.  If asked a question that you don’t care to answer, simply steer the conversation in a different direction or ignore the point entirely.  When you debate one or more people, you don’t have to wait your turn to speak.  Just interrupt the other person whenever you feel you can get away with it.   Civility is overrated and can even be a hindrance.  The rules are simple; whoever gets in the most words, and thus the most airtime, wins.

Now whom should we blame for these displays which are quite frankly disrespectful and childish?  I believe it rests primarily with the host or interviewer of the program.  A good host can keep his or her guests in line and on topic.  A poor host doesn’t restrain his or her guests, or, worse yet, treats them with open contempt.  Upon further reflection, there is a strong comparison between the host of a political program and an elementary school teacher.  A worthy host or teacher must be both a taskmaster and disciplinarian, motivated and fair.  If you allow your guests or students to be disrespectful or constantly wander off topic, then no one will learn anything of value.

Of course, these days political TV is not really about education, but instead shouting trivial and meaningless talking points.  The market and the audience have become oversaturated with emotion and devoid of facts.  Without a meaningful exchange of ideas, the American public treats politics as fairly irrelevant.  It is merely another form of entertainment to be spoofed on Comedy Central and Saturday Night Live.  Therefore, we must reject the concept of no holds barred political television.  It is detrimental to our political health and weakens the fabric of society.

In closing, I encourage you to explore the wealth of training options available at The Leadership Institute.  My first experience with their learning opportunities was excellent and last week’s was quite good as well.  I just take exception to one particular technique that they suggested.  Although rudeness and political demagoguery is all the rage on TV these days, that doesn’t mean we should follow down this well-worn path.  I know that I won’t.  If that means I’ll never be successful in the medium, at least I can hold my head high knowing that I didn’t help trash the American experiment for a quick buck and to further my own selfish ambitions.

4 Replies to “Behaving Badly on TV”

  1. When you have hosts that don’t understand the material at all and don’t care about facts, just whether they’re providing good entertainment, this is what television becomes.

    I’ve been on TV several times, from the cable access shows up to Lou Dobbs on CNN. It’s disappointing to see what really happens. Producers already have the event scripted, and are just trying to make guests fit into their script for the most part. Hosts don’t have any idea whether someone has just given them a rash of well-delivered BS. And best of all is when the ignorant host starts attacking the guest out of the blue in order to ty to appeal to what he thinks his audience is (thanks MSNBC, I’ll never bother with you again)

    The LI class preps people for what TV is, not what it should be. It is essentially a boxing match governed by a half-blind referee who suffers from dementia. There ain’t no rules and can get awful brutal. You have no choice but to walk in there ready for mortal combat rather than think this is going to be a nice and educational experience where you get to share ideas and leave the world a better place by just a tiny bit.

    The public loves it that way, and as long as it does, this is all television will ever be.

    1. Thanks for your insight into this issue. As you’ve had considerable hands on experience with the field, I’m sure what you write is pretty typical.

      Now, if you are going to lower yourself into a snake pit, knowledge on how to survive in that sort of environment becomes key. I’m just saying that TV talk shows and news programs ought to be better than a snake pit; they should strive to be more than mere ratings whoredom.

      Is change possible? I think that it is. Then again, I’m not a TV exec so I don’t really have a say in the matter.

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