The news business vs. show business

·4 min read

I’ve been in show business for 30 years, and the way it works is this: You spend many months, sometimes years, on a project, writing and developing it, shooting it, and after putting together the footage and fixing the sound and adding music, you send it out into the world in as good a shape as you can.

The writers and actors and directors, not to mention the people financing the whole enterprise, don’t really know how it's all going to turn out. They have to wait for the box office returns or the television ratings to tell them if the work product of many months was worth the time and treasure. That's just how show business works.

Most of show business, anyway.

The way the cable news business works is this: You arrive at the studio about 20 minutes before you’re scheduled, and you sit in a chair while makeup is applied and your hair is anchored into place. A technician wires you with an almost-invisible earpiece, which is wrapped around the outside of your ear and then left dangling because it's your job to push the earpiece into your ear.

When the show begins, you're supposed to lean forward in a highly engaged posture, to signal your all-consuming interest in… whatever.

You’re encouraged to make decisive hand gestures and verbal lists (“There are three major forces at work here, Dianne”). Before you know it, the show is over, and you either wipe the makeup off of your face before you head to dinner, which, in my case, makes you look like you've just rubbed your face with sandpaper, or you wear it out. This can raise eyebrows from other people up close at the restaurant, but to people 20 feet or 30 feet away, you look amazing.

The makeup will ruin your shirt.

Usually, the show airs later that day, which gives you time to forget every stupid thing you said. Sometimes, though, the show appears live, pretty much as it happens, with maybe a short secondslong delay in case someone lets fly a vulgarity.

I recently appeared on a live cable news show broadcast. I was on with several television journalists, all professionals, and when the time came for an advertising break, they instantly reached for their phones to see what the audience was saying about them on Twitter.

“They hate me,” one of the journalists said as he scrolled through his timeline. “Especially what I said about Biden’s speech.”

Another one laughed a bit and read a nice tweet about her outfit. When I reached for my phone to do the same, one of the old pros held my arm.

“Don’t,” he said. “You’re not ready for this.”

It turns out he was correct.

I checked Twitter several times during the course of the live show — there were a lot of advertising breaks — and each time, I was surprised by the number of people who really do not like to see me on television. There were tweets about my hair and my weight and my shoes and my shirt, plus one or two about things I actually said, and it was impossible, after getting such specific real-time criticism, not to make subtle adjustments to my performance.

I sucked in my gut. I uncrossed my legs to hide my shoes. And I even — and for this I’m utterly ashamed — found myself rethinking some of my more withering comments about the leadership in Washington.

All because I was reading my reviews in the middle of my appearance. It’s the very thing we dream about in the entertainment business: the ability to fix and adjust a project on the fly, as the audience reacts, rather than later, after millions have been spent and there’s nothing anyone can do.

It's odd, then, that I was able to make all sorts of midcourse corrections in order to increase my audience appeal when I was on a news program, which is supposed to be fact-based and serious and impervious to Hollywood-style audience pandering.

When it comes to giving the audience what it wants, I learned, show business has a lot to learn from the news business.

Rob Long is a television writer and producer and the co-founder of

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Tags: humor, Life, Hollywood, Journalism, cable news

Original Author: Rob Long

Original Location: The news business vs. show business

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