Like many professional associations, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association is mainly comprised of top management and ownership people. Over this past weekend, a lot of the “worker bees” in broadcasting – the ones who actually design and create the programs you hear on radio and see on TV - were using 21st century social media to laugh at (and grouse about) the WBA’s Friday night presentation of the “debate” between U.S. Senate candidates Tammy Baldwin and Tommy Thompson. It’s time for the owners and top managers to take a critical look at the product they’re putting out on these “debates”.
I put the word debate in quotation marks because anyone who’s ever been on a debate team knows that these events – from the national to the local level – aren’t debates. They’re more like joint appearances, where the candidates spit back the relevant lines from their stump speeches and don’t really do any debating whatsoever.
Look at the photo at the top of this post (from CSPAN). Massive, 18th-century desks; two staid and immobile candidates, seated very far apart; and the bunting hanging behind them – a nice touch, straight out of the 19th century.
The entire hour long broadcast had the feel of something out of the 50’s, when TV was in its infancy.
A few unsolicited remarks: it’s well past time to completely revamp the presentation and format of these joint appearances. Update the look of the set; increase dramatically the production values of the telecast; instruct the director to use two-shots with an emphasis on candidates’ reactions to each other’s statements; and for God’s sake, do SOMETHING about the dreadfully boring opening to the telecast (the “sponsor ID statements”), where old white men drone on with platitudes about the importance of getting to know the candidates and why their company or organization, which has shelled out good money to sponsor the telecast, is a fine and civic-minded group of patriots. The sponsors must be credited, but the leaders of these fine patriotic organizations need to be coached on making a brief and impactful TV presentation. Oh, and maybe…just maybe…they might want to sneak in a little B-roll, so it isn’t just 90 seconds of sitting on a one-shot of the talking head droning on. Oh yes, and it’s OK to use musical elements in the telecast, for the opening, transitions, segment definition, and closes - just like commercial TV has been doing for the past 40-some years.
The format needs a complete overhaul. Watch and learn from video of any of the many Republican Presidential “debates” from this summer; watch the Obama/Romney “debate” Wednesday night. You have the candidates seated at desks, way too far apart. Let them sit together at a table (kind of like the Walker/Barrett gubernatorial debate) so they can interact with each other, or let them stand at lecterns (which will incorrectly be called “podiums” by everyone). Let the candidates react to each other’s responses, by giving them instant rebuttal time or whatever. Let the panel of questioners follow up if a candidate gives a non-responsive stump-speech response. Add at least one more person to the panel – how about two radio folks and two TV folks? And for God’s sake, make the thing MOVE! Give the telecast some life and forward momentum. Let us see the candidates disagree with each other in real time, so we can see the clash of ideas and do some sifting and winnowing!
There are plenty of extremely talented television producers in Wisconsin who, I’m sure, would be glad to volunteer their skills to help the WBA put on a lively and informative telecast.
All you have to do is ask them.