You aren’t allowed to be surprised that this week’s episode of Saturday Night Live was bad. You can be surprised by just how bad it was, but if you were surprised that Elon Musk, a billionaire, who has never done anything funny and has never shown a sense of humor about who he is and or his cult of personality, isn’t a great comedian, then I can’t help you. You’re a buffoon.
And look, you’re not alone. Clearly NBC executives, SNL writers, and even Lorne Michaels himself were dumb enough to think this would work despite mountains of evidence going in that this was going to be one of the worst weeks in the show’s history.
Every station in America has, at some point, kicked around the idea of taking a well-known name and trying to turn them into a broadcaster. A lot has to go right to be successful. Before you even get to the breaks, you have to make sure you have put your money on the right horse.
SNL is a show with a long history. This may be easy to forget, but the show has made the same mistakes it did with Elon Musk over and over again. There is a lesson in that for sports radio. I guess since we now cover the whole talk radio spectrum, there is a lesson for it in news/talk too.
Remember April of 1996? Another billionaire was making headlines for doing something stupid and SNL wanted to capitalize on it. So they invited Steve Forbes to host the show and it was TERRIBLE! Forbes looked at the cue cards the entire time, at multiple points, turning his head completely away from the person he was supposed to be talking to in his scene. During his monologue, he stared right down the barrel of the camera with a look of absolute horror on his face.
People in the sports world have fond memories of the time Michael Jordan hosted the show. Y’all, I’m here to remind you that it was BAD. The Daily Affirmation sketch in that episode is an all-timer, but overall, Jordan was awful. The guy has charisma, but he doesn’t have “can carry a comedy show for 90 minutes” charisma.
The biggest name isn’t always the right person to build a show around. How many times have we seen former players on ESPN or former politicians on CNN and/or FOX News and instantly recognized that offering an opinion is not their strong suit? Some people are just better working from a pre-written speech or working in an environment manicured and controlled to make sure they are never challenged. There is no amount of work you can do with them to prepare them for a career in talk radio if they cannot just have a normal conversation where they may be challenged a bit.
I’ll circle back to something else I said about Elon Musk at the top of this column, because it is another huge red flag. Musk doesn’t think there is anything funny about himself. He doesn’t see the idea of him hosting a comedy show as absurd, because he has bought into his own bullshit. Remember the diver that he called a pedophile because the guy said Elon Musk’s idea for rescuing kids trapped in an underwater tunnel wouldn’t work?
Plenty of people in the public eye are like that. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you hire someone like that to host a show and they turn out to be Michael Irvin, a force of nature when it comes to stage presence and charm. Most times though, you get Eric Mangini or Ray Lewis or Paul Pierce or Trent Dilfer or Lou Holtz, guys that take themselves so seriously and do not understand why anyone is allowed to question them that they would rather shut down disagreement than roll with it and create something interesting.
Why did Peyton Manning and The Rock work as SNL hosts? Because they recognized and played along with the absurdity of them telling jokes on a show that spawned comedic geniuses like Eddie Murphy, Phil Hartman and Chris Rock. Why is Pat McAfee great on TV and on radio? Because he recognizes the absurdity of anyone looking at him as an expert on football just because he was a punter.
If you’re betting on a guy that doesn’t like looking dumb or refuses to ever believe he is wrong, you may as well start updating your resume. Personalities like that can work as the focal point of a show, but it is rare that they do and even rarer that those shows last. What a co-host, a producer, and a programmer need in a partner is someone that will take the advice of the great Kendrick Lamar – “Bitch, sit down. Be humble.”
I have written before about things like improv classes and talking to people in other formats about learning how to be a better broadcaster. If you were to ask your ex-jock or ex-coach or whoever to do those things, would they? You don’t have to immediately cast them to the side if the answer is no. If that is the answer though, is that where the conversation stops? If it is, you are probably about to invest in someone that doesn’t have any intention of growing or getting better than they are right now with no experience.
SNL can afford to do that with hosts. Those people are in town for a week and then, if it didn’t work out, they can be out of the show’s life forever. Programmers and radio stations can’t afford that kind of risk though. We aren’t building for a week to grab a few headlines and get a couple of clips to go viral.
If you are building for longterm success, you have to build around someone that wants to be as successful in the media as they were on the court or in politics. Hosting a show is fun, but it is a job. It is a reality you have to understand and look for candidates that recognize that. Saddling your employees with whatever talk radio’s answer to Elon Musk hosting Saturday Night Live is and saying “figure it out” is not just evidence of your ineptitude, it is disrespectful to the people that are going to have to pick up that person’s slack.
Asking The Right Questions Helps Create Interesting Content
Asking questions that can get a subject to talk about their feelings is a much better way to get an interesting answer.
When ESPN’s Mike Greenberg interviewed Paolo Banchero in the lead-up to the NBA lottery on Tuesday, he asked what I’ve concluded is the single most maddening question that can be asked of any athlete preparing for any draft.
“Why do you believe you should be No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft?” Greenberg said.
Before I point out exactly why I have such a visceral reaction to such a harmless question, I want to point out the positives because Greenberg’s question avoids some of the most common pitfalls:
1) It is an actual question. That’s not as automatic as you think given the number of poor souls who are handed a microphone and say to their subject, “Talk about (whatever issue they want a quote or a sound bite on).” This is the mark of an amateur, creating the opening for an uncooperative subject to slam the door by saying, “What do you want me to say?”
2) Greenberg’s question can not be answered with a yes or a no. Questions that start with the word “Can you …” or “Did you …” may sound like they’re tough questions for the subject, but they’re actually fairly easy if the subject wants to offer an answer. Now, most interview subjects won’t take that one-word exit, but some will in a touchy situation.
The problem with Greenberg’s question has to do with the result. Why do we ask questions of the athletes we cover? Seriously. That’s not rhetorical. What’s the goal? It’s to get interesting answers. At least that’s the hope whether it’s for a quote that will be included in a story, a sound bite to be replayed later or — like in this situation — during an interview that is airing live. The question should be engineered to elicit interesting content, and there was very little chance that the question Greenberg asked Banchero was going to produce anything close to that.
I know that because I have heard some version of this question asked hundreds of times. That’s not an exaggeration. I attended the NFL scouting combine annually for a number of years, and if a player wasn’t asked why he should be the first overall pick, he’d get asked why he should be a first-round pick or why he should be one of the first players chosen at his position. Never — in all that time — have I ever heard what would be considered an interesting or informative answer. In my experience, players tend to talk in incredibly general terms about their own abilities and then seek to compliment their peers in an effort to avoid coming off as cocky.
Here’s how Banchero answered Greenberg’s question: “Yeah, thank you all for having me, first off., I feel like I’m the number one pick in the draft because I’m the best overall player. I feel like I check all the boxes whether it’s being a great teammate, being the star player or doing whatever the coach needs. I’ve been a winner my whole life. Won everywhere I’ve went, and when I get to the NBA, that’s going to be the same goal for me. So just combining all those things, and knowing what I have to work on to be better is a formula for me.”
There’s nothing wrong with answer just as there was nothing wrong with the question. It’s just that both are really, really forgettable. ESPN did put a clip on YouTube with the headline “Paolo Banchero: I’m the best overall player in the NBA Draft | NBA Countdown” but I think I’m the only who will remember it and that’s only because I’m flapping my arms and squawking not because there was anything bad per se, but because there was nothing really good, either.
First of all, I’m not sure why it matters if Banchero thinks he should be the number one overall pick. He’s not going to be making that decision. The team that holds the top draft pick — in this case Orlando — is. Here’s a much better question: “How important is it for you to be the number one overall pick?” This would actually give an idea of the stakes for Banchero. What does this actually mean to him? Asking him why he should go number one is asking Banchero to tell us how others should see him. Asking Banchero how important it would be go number one is asking him to tell us about his feelings, something that’s much more likely to produce an interesting answer.
The point here isn’t to question Greenberg’s overall competence because I don’t. He’s as versatile a host as there is in the game, and anyone else in the industry has something to learn from the way he teases ahead to content. What I want to point out not just how we fail to maximize opportunities to generate interesting content, but why. Interviews are a staple of the sports-media industry. We rely on these interviews as both primary content that will be consumed directly, and as the genesis for our own opinions and reaction yet for all that importance we spend very little time thinking about the kind of answer this question is likely to produce.
The Client Just Said YES, Now What?
We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES.
One of the most significant moments in radio sales is when the client agrees to your proposal and says YES. But, when they do say YES, do you know what’s next? We better have an answer!
We spend a lot of time getting ready for clients with research, spec spots (thank you, radio sales trainer Chris Lytle-go to 22:30), proposals, and meetings. All of our focus is on getting the client to say YES. We should spend as much time on what we will do after the client says YES. For example, getting newer sales reps to sell annual advertising contracts would be ideal for building a list. They would have less pressure, more job security, and could spend more time making the advertising work for their clients. But, since most newer reps don’t know the business yet, they don’t bite off more than they can chew and sell a package of the month.
When a client says yes to the weight loss promotion, it’s pretty clear how to write the ads, what the promos will say, etc. BUT, if a newer sales rep starts selling annual contracts to a direct local client who needs a resource, how will that work? Let’s make sure we paint the picture right upfront. More experienced reps know that they need to assume the client will say YES to the weight loss promo and have a plan accordingly.
They have the next steps to building copy and promos, a credit app or credit card payment form, and any other detail the client must provide. But, when we ask a direct local client for an annual advertising contract, watch out! You have just made a partnership. Why not lay out, upfront, what that will look like. And I understand not every local client needs the same level of service.
A car dealer has the factories pushing quarterly promotions, agencies producing ads, and in-house marketing directors pulling it all together sometimes. Other clients need your help in promotions, copywriting, or idea generation. Make a plan upfront with your client about when you will meet to discuss the next quarter’s ad program. Include your station’s promotions or inventory for football and basketball season, a summer NTR event, digital testimonials with on-air talent, etc., in your annual proposal. Go out as far as you can and show what you have to offer to the client and how you can execute it. This exercise is good for you and, once mastered, guides the client on how you will take care of them after the sale. It also opens your eyes to what it takes to have a successful client partnership inside and outside the station.
Media Noise – Episode 74
This week, Demetri is joined by Ian Casselberry and Ryan Brown. Demetri talks about the NBA Draft getting an ABC simulcast, Ian talks about Patrick Beverley’s breakout week on TV, and Ryan reminds us that Tom Brady may be the star, but Kevin Burkhardt is the story we shouldn’t forget.