Last week on CNBC’s “The Profit: An Inside Look,” star Marcus Lemonis and executive producer Amber Mazzola were reviewing an episode from season two when she pulled out some pages of notes she had received from the network during production. She read one that had to do with how the show was edited, and later read another about a scene in which Lemonis was shown working out in a sleeveless t-shirt at Pro-Fit, a fitness training facility he’d made a deal with:
“The sleeveless t-shirt: a very, very bad idea. Nothing to do now, but this is clearly another area where we need to use some judgment.”
This is the sort of annoying interference that showrunners have to deal with all the time — even those who, like Mazzola, were overseeing a show that was a proven success. Someone at the network supposedly knew better than she and her staff how the show should be put together, and thus filled pages upon pages with criticisms and what they believed to be better ideas.
I encountered this kind of nonsense a few times in my radio career. Most of the program directors I worked with were happy to give me all the rope I needed, knowing that I wouldn’t hang myself — or the station. For the most part, they recognized that I needed very little input from them in order to deliver a great show and big ratings. Occasionally, they’d have to talk to me about some change in formatics or a promotion we were launching, but we certainly didn’t need to sit through long, boring meetings to cover those points.
At one station, during contract renewal negotiations, I tried to get a clause added, stating that all meetings between us would be done standing up. The program director and general manager laughed and asked why. I replied that, most of the time, all they had to do was stop me in the hallway, tell me what I needed to know in a sentence or two and I’d get it — it wasn’t necessary to sit down for a half-hour after my show, when I was exhausted, to go over whatever it was. They smiled, said they understood and would try to keep our meetings as short as they’d always been, but wouldn’t add that language to the contract. To their credit, we rarely had those long sessions in anyone’s office again.
On the other hand, I also had the experience of having a new consultant come aboard, tell me that he thought I did one of the best shows he’d ever heard, then immediately try to get me on a schedule where we’d meet after my show every day to review it. I told him there was no need to discuss my performance, or those of the others on the show, or the execution of the content, because I knew exactly what we’d done, what had worked, and what hadn’t. Nothing he could add would improve anything. Fortunately, my ratings were good enough that he backed off.
When I shared this story with my onetime colleague Frank O. Pinion, he told me he’d been through the same thing. A new PD had stopped him after a show one morning, introduced himself, and said that what he’d like to do was sit down and go over tapes of the show a couple of times a week to critique it. Frank replied, “Well, you’ll have to let me know how that goes.” The stunned PD asked, “What do you mean?” Frank continued, “I mean that I won’t be there, but you go ahead and do whatever you want to do.” Then he walked away. The PD never mentioned it again.
I had one general manager who was particularly bad about meetings. Every Tuesday when we got off the air, we (the morning show team) had to go to his office and listen to him tell stories or ranting about things unrelated to our show, all while he smoked a fat cigar. The building we were in was designated non-smoking, but he didn’t care as he puffed away. All of us went home on those days reeking of this sour bastard’s foul tobacco and tiresome pontifications, which only rarely touched on anything to do with the content of the morning show.
The bottom line is that successful broadcasters are more aware of what makes their shows tick than anyone else. If we blew a bit or an interview or something else, we’ve already rerun it in our heads and figured out what went wrong. That doesn’t mean there can’t be some constructive criticism, but constantly sending notes or memos or demanding review sessions only serves to annoy us, and rarely makes the end product better. That’s why we lasted for decades on the air.
And that’s today’s Inside Look.