Getting in Line

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Dear Viewers,

So what does the "line producer" (search) do? There is no doubt the line producer for a news/news talk show has the most chaotic and frantic job in TV news. It is also the most important job in getting the show on the air. I will attempt to tell you what he or she does, but since I am on the set on the "receiving end" of the line producer, I know only 1/50th of what he does. Here is my best effort:

The line producer is the "boss" during the show. That means unfortunately, in TV, he gets little credit for a great show and lots of yelling if there is a problem. In spite of the sometimes thankless job of being the line producer, the line producer has the most important job when it comes to actually doing the show. To hold the job, you have to love living on edge — the job must feel like a nightly near death experience. The job seems a bit crazy, but exciting for those who enjoy the thrill of risks.

My line producer speaks to me via my earpiece and tells me things I need to know during the show. He (yes, I have a man) keeps his comments to a minimum since when he talks, he cuts out the audio I have from the guests (I hear the remote guests and guests on the set via an earpiece directly.) There is nothing worse than missing what a guest says. I don't want to ask my guest a question and have him say, "I just answered that!" My producer does a great job of talking real fast when he talks to me during the show to minimize the problem of the audio cut out.

The line producer also "times" the show — he is responsible to make sure that each segment lasts only so long and that we get to commercial breaks. This also includes making sure I hit the markers for the hard breaks — one mid-show and one at the end of the show. He tells the director the times, who tells my stage manager, who holds up time cues to me. When the line producer does not see me wrapping the segment/interview, he knows there is a problem and tells me directly to wrap. He has to bypass everyone else to get me the information. He does this while he is also doing a bunch of other things to keep the show moving.

During the show you see video on the screen. Who makes those decisions as the show is going on? The line producer is ultimately the responsible one. I assume he also decides on graphics, big boxes, little boxes, lower thirds (that writing on the bottom of the screen, etc.) Like I said above, I am not in the control room, so I am not exactly sure.

The line producer must make sure we have audio, which means being responsible for the audio person. It is not just my audio, but the audio for guests, audio to you, the viewer, etc. He also needs to make sure the director (who calls camera shots etc.) is ready for his job before the show starts and during the show.

Now, all of the above is pretty chaotic during a show, but also sounds manageable with lots of practice and great ability to pay attention to many balls in the air. Of course the foregoing description assumes all goes as planned. This never happens. I am stunned any news show on any news outlet can keep a line producer more than a week because, in short, the job is nuts.

From the time a line producer steps into the control room for the show, he can expect all hell to break lose — and it does. Guests don't show up on time — so he must re-arrange the show and show times as the show is going on. I take a segment too long or too short, so he has to refigure the segment times for the rest of the show as the show proceeds. We lose satellites, which means we unexpectedly lose a guest, and he has to adjust the show times for that lost guest… then we unexpectedly get the satellite back and we have the guest again so he must again readjust. If there is breaking news and he has to get me the information, we need to assess it editorially to see if we should report, find out what reporter is available, get possible guests, get me the names of the reporters and the possible guests so I know who to go to and do this as the show proceeds, etc.

In every control room I have been in (at two networks) there is lots and lots of screaming because there are so many emergencies! You have no idea how many emergencies can arise during a show that appears "normal" to you watching.

And, on top of all of this, when the line producer talks to me during the show, he needs to modulate his voice and not convey panic to me, or yell into my ear and blow out my eardrum! He does not want his anchor to know the ship has hit a glacier (which happens every night in every news show on every network) — he wants his anchor to proceed and calmly do the show (while he bails out the water!) The line producer does not want his anchor to look bewildered or nervous so he carefully and calmly speaks to his anchor. He wants the show to look like all is well. This is the personal hell of all line producers in news.

Like I wrote above, the line producer in news is a rare individual who has to love living on the edge and do it in spite of rarely getting credit for a job well done. He does hear about the problems, but never the praise for doing a great job.


P.S. In case you missed it, I have posted my interview with attorney Gary Fox and Dr. Michael Baden as they examine how Terri Schiavo (search) came to be in her current state. Click on the link in the video box above to watch it.

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