A TV veteran says non-studio interviews aren’t dirty tricks

In my previous post, I tried to offer an objective rationale for why Fox 9 interviews newsmakers in its newsroom, rather than in the studio next to its anchors. A few minutes later, a TV veteran (who is not a Fox cheerleader and not an ambush artist) sent me this perspective on why it isn’t a “dirty trick“:

My experience with TV stations doing interviews “through the box” — or in other rooms from the anchor — is all about production values.

“Through the box interviews” give the impression of “being live” somewhere — and news producers are trained from an early age to appreciate live production.

Second, I can tell you from my producing experience, in-studio, in-person interviews tend to “move slower” and take more time. From the TV standpoint, that’s another reason to avoid them.

Third, “through the box” interviews also allow producers to use more visual elements — stacking all three face shots of the combatants and anchors on the screen at the same time, for instance. These visual effects can’t be done when everyone is sitting next to each other.

So — for what it’s worth — that’s the behind the scenes reason these things are done. It’s got nothing to do with comfort, discomfort or trying to make someone look bad. It’s about TV’s internal workings and what is generally considered to be “better looking TV.”

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Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Ed Kohler on 11/05/2010 - 02:35 pm.

    Ah, so it’s good for TV production.

    Now, what does that have to do with it being good for the interviewee that isn’t experienced at staring into a camera lens?

    How it it good for an interviewee to receive questions in their ear from a hostile host rather than have the same guest do so face to face?

    Also, studios have more than one camera. They could shoot both the host and guest from different angles, overlay other content, etc. it doesn’t seem like a technical limitation to me.

    It’s not a level playing field, which is probably why news stations like it, but I don’t.

  2. Submitted by Jay Reilly on 11/05/2010 - 04:15 pm.

    Here are a few thoughts on Fox 9’s interview style

    Anchors are comfortable and highly skilled in talking to cameras and monitors. Most guests are not.

    A face to face, one on one interview might not put the anchor on equal footing with the guest. Al Franken, for example, may have more live TV experience than the anchor. Newt Gingrich’s strong personality consistently makes him a focal point. Keeping a guest in a separate room would be an equalizing or controlling factor.

    If a TV news show is a product, then production values have to maintained. The audience has to be assured that they will get the type of program they tuned in for. They want to see a particular type of interview.

    A guest comes to do an interview to offer some information. The station’s goal is to maintain production values during that interview. If the guest’s answers are at a slower pace or offer too much information or, for some other reason, don’t fit the format of the show, do production values trump the guest content?

    Perhaps, Fox 9’s interview format isn’t an ambush interview per se. However, it isn’t like Edward R. Murrow interviewing people in their own living rooms to encourage the flow of information.

  3. Anonymous Submitted by Anonymous on 11/05/2010 - 04:39 pm.

    Honestly, who cares what a “TV veteran” who won’t even use his name has to say about the ethics of his business?

  4. Submitted by David Brauer on 11/05/2010 - 06:02 pm.

    Ed, Rob:

    Ed — You might be right about the novices. But Ritchie and (I think) Hoffman don’t fall into that category. I think there’s as good a chance that novices get nervous on a set as they do talking into a camera, but we don’t have any testimony on that.

    I don’t think the technical hurdles are quite as simple as you make them out to be, but I guess Almanac does it this way every week.

    I agree this is all from the station’s p.o.v. But the issue is intent, and I trust the source in this case. It actually came up yesterday in conversation with another non-Fox TV person, before Hoffman wrote his item.

    Rob – fair shot on anonymity, but on some level, it depends on whether you trust me. There’s a legitimate reason for this person to stay anonymous; the email was originally private to me but I asked for permission to print it, offering the condition that no names be used.

    Like I said in the previous post, I think the studio issue is overblown, but other mileages may vary. This note provided more detail on something I was trying to get at in the previous post.

    And to reiterate: it doesn’t change my original criticism of the Fox interview.

  5. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 11/06/2010 - 09:59 am.

    I just posted a lengthy comment on this on the original article before reading this new article. I have to say I just don’t by the TV veteran’s explanation. I’m sure they use this rationale, I don’t think our veteran is lying to us, it’s just hooey.

    I know the technique is used to create what they think is better TV, but again, the idea that this is better TV is the product of pinhead consultants. None of the really talented interviewers anywhere from 60 minuts to Charlie Rose use this technique, although they all could. And those interviews are superior. The time element may look reasonable at first, for instance setting one can set up an interviewee in a separate room with the required mic lighting etc. without interrupting the show and then just turn to the interview. On Almanac for instance you see the short down time between while the next group comes on, moves to the table etc. In a 30 minute news cast you don’t want to do that. However, this really doesn’t make sense when you think about it. Almanac uses that transition time theatrically, and they’re moving from one interview to the next, this isn’t the case in a news cast. Those sets are big enough for an interviewee to bet set up off camera a few feet away without disrupting the main broadcast. The transition can be seamless, and it’s no more technically difficult than setting up a remote feed, in fact it’s less difficult because the studio is already set up, the only thing you have to do is make sure the mic is working.

    One possibility that our TV veteran didn’t mention, is the quality of the interviewer. Let’s face it, sometimes the only talents some of these anchors really have is that they can read well off of a teleprompter and are very comfortable in front of a camera. Live interviews can go off script and throw curves at interviewers. Even Letterman get’s stuck on occasion. It could well be that producers are worried about their talent’s ability to handle a live interview and want to give them some advantages, provide a comfort zone. I can see where a remote setup might make some of these anchors more comfortable and decrease the odds of something unpredictable happening and going off the rails. No one has mentioned the simple fact that remote feeds can be cut… you can’t do that to someone who’s standing in a studio three feet away.

  6. Submitted by Richard Parker on 11/06/2010 - 12:36 pm.

    I enjoy Stephen Colbert’s routine, in which he prances over to the interview set, waving at the audience, calling attention to himself as they interviewee sits there waiting more or less uncomfortably. I assume he’s making fun of celebrity interviewers.

  7. Submitted by karl karlson on 11/08/2010 - 04:27 pm.

    Shame on all of you for watching television news.

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