Friday, March 30, 2012

Art of the Tease

          It’s not as sexy as it sounds.  We’re talking about the first minute of a show that introduces content and hooks viewers.
          Production Assistant Toby Hershkowitz, who works on E:60 teases, describes the creative process as “delicate and difficult”.
          “You want to highlight some exciting part of the story, but you want to leave meat on the bone so when they watch the story it will be new and exciting,” said Hershkowitz.
          Producers risk losing viewers if the tease gives away too much.  And they risk losing viewers if it doesn’t offer enough.
          Typically, the tease promotes three long-form stories and a short “interstitial”.  The E:60 tease, voiced by an unseen narrator, tends to be conversational and familiar.  The language is energized, provocative and begs a question: what happened?  Or: who is that?
          A show in July 2011 featured three long pieces: a profile of Ozzie Guillen, then manager of the White Sox; a story on former middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik’s bout with alcohol; and a story on a 17-year-old girl who lost part of her left leg in a boating accident and recovered to play high school soccer.  It also offered a five-minute piece on a triathlete who wrestles alligators, and a short on Albert Pujols’ visit to a bat factory.
          The tease started with Guillen.  The key tracks were “a manager with no filter between his mind and his mouth”, and “Ozzie Guillen is the best interview in sports”.   There was sound from Ozzie - “We played like bleep” - film of the White Sox celebrating a championship, reporter Jeremy Schaap handing Guillen a beer, and a specialty shot of Guillen’s head highlighted by thought balloons, among them “under the bus”, “family”, and “honesty”.
          “There are times when someone is so big that just having them is enough to sell the story - that was the case with Ozzie,” Hershkowitz said. “We said he was the best interview in sports - we thought people would tune in just to hear what he had to say.
          “That said, the thought balloons indicated we had something people haven’t seen before - a trip inside his mind.”
          Next came Pavlik.   The first track,  “Once the middleweight champion of the world, the hope of a struggling town.”  - was over film of Pavlik in the ring and of deserted factories in Pavlik’s hometown.  Then another shot of Pavlik in the ring, and SOT from a ring announcer, “He’s from Youngstown, Ohio.”   The second track was, “Now Kelly Pavlik faces the fight of his life”, over a specialty shots of Pavlik in the ring and up close.  Then a SOT: “In a 12-month period he had more interventions than fights.”
          Hershkowitz explained it:
          “The line about him facing the fight of his life is the undetermined conclusion.  The hook is ‘I wonder if he makes it, beats the addiction, and finds success again as a boxer?  I don’t feel I have the whole story.  I know it’s about addiction, but I don’t know the outcome’.
          “It’s less effective if we say Pavlik defeats his demons and comes back to glory.  A tease is ineffective if the viewer knows exactly what the story is going to be.”
           The tease moved on to Lexi Youngberg, the high school soccer player, introducing her as she ran on to the pitch, with the SOT, “Number Four, Lexi Youngberg.”   Tracked over film of her playing soccer is  “A vibrant athletic 17-year-old”,  and as the film cuts to a boat speeding over water, the track intones  “a deadly accident, and a life forever changed”.  Cut to an interviewee, who says, “I really thought she was going to die”, followed by a track, “the soccer comeback story of the year” over film of her team in a huddle.
          The key phrase was “a life forever changed” because while the tease tees up a boating accident, it does not disclose that Youngberg lost part of her left leg, and now plays soccer with a prosthesis.  Those facts are held back for the story.
          “It’s effective if you give a sense of the story but withhold a pivotal turning point or a twist,” said Hershkowitz.
          The tease concluded with a track on the alligator wrestler, “extreme sport, extreme danger, poisonous snakes, deadly alligators and a death-defying triathlete”, over film of Paul Bedard running, swimming, and messing with snakes and alligators.  The last track, “the best stories in sports tonight on E:60” is over film of Pujols swinging the bat, and an up-close specialty shot of the slugger.

Posted by Steve Marantz on March 30, 2012

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