When Good Shows Go Bad

By Michael Cascio, CEO/President of M&C Media LLC

Michael CascioIn the world of factual TV, whether on a big network, digital outlet or corporate video, I see the same pitfalls that sink otherwise compelling programs. I currently advise producers, network and assorted others in a crowded marketplace, and often rely on my work as SVP and EVP at A&E, Discovery Communications, NBC News and National Geographic – lessons that anyone in the business of creating video should heed:

  • Subject matter sells. If you have a great topic, you’re one step ahead. It should be obvious that a moving war story or uplifting hospital drama will resonate more than a listing of mutual funds or a routine office procedure. But even when the topic is weak, you can dig for dramatic nuggets that will capture the audience – someone overcoming huge obstacles, a hidden talent that emerges in an unlikely setting, high stakes where you might think there’s nothing happening.
  • Start strong. No one has the luxury of time. No one wants to wait for the good stuff. The first seconds of your video should grab the viewer with action or intrigue, because….
  • You don’t lose your audience, you give it away. I got this nifty piece of wisdom early in my career, and it makes sense: Your audience is already watching, so anything that makes their attention wander means that you haven’t kept it. Structure is everything – a clear beginning, middle and end.
  • Stay basic or go extreme? On the one hand, programs that break barriers stand out; extremes of quality, concept, creativity and format have a better chance of success. But in a sea of experimentation, sometimes sticking to basics is the best bet – the vlogging community seems to do just fine with elementary production techniques. Bottom line: Let your subject matter dictate your style.
  • Good writing covers a multitude of sins. The great CBS 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt once told me: “There’s not a problem I can’t write my way out of.” Writing often underrated by video-oriented producers who try to write, shoot and edit everything. Truth is, the writing – creating a narrative – is often the hardest part.
  • Keep it real. The world is a fascinating place. There’s so much happening that you don’t need to make it up, unless you’re creating a scripted movie or TV show. Even in reality TV genres where the storylines are invented, the elements that resonate most are the same things that serious documentary makers look for: High stakes, human drama, fascinating characters, and something new.

Cascio is a former television executive at A&E, Discovery Communications, NBC News and National Geographic who now runs M&C Media LLC, working with producers, networks and others from strategy to show doctor. www.MandCMedia.com

The Cynsiders column is a platform for industry leaders to reach out to colleagues, followers, and the public at large. In their own words and in targeted Q&As, columnists address breaking news, issues of the day, and the larger changes going on in the ever-evolving world of television, video and digital. Cynsiders columns live on Cynopsis’ main page and are promoted across all daily newsletters. We welcome readers’ comments, queries, and column ideas at [email protected].

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