As we saw last month, a good rundown program that calculates back-times can be a useful tool in planning and organizing a television newscast and making sure it runs to time.
This month some strategic thinking about the rundown.
Every day the producers of television newscasts solve a puzzle almost as complex as Rubik's cube. While they know to the second how much airtime their show has to fill, they have almost no idea at the start of the day how they are going to fill it. And the content has to be good — journalistically relevant news stories presented in the best order to serve the audience. It is enough to scare a lot of people away from programming live TV.
In this article we are going to look at two strategies producers and editors can use to make sure that when the show is on the air all their good planning with back and front timing is not wasted. In the illustration below, from the LineupNX newsroom program, a seven-minute school announcement and news show has been planned and it is exactly on time—to the second. There are just enough stories to fit the allocated airtime. It has two program blocks, "0" for headlines and "1" for the stories.
But the real world never works that way. On a live show something always happens that is not accounted for in a rundown that is exactly to time. For example an anchor might be having a bad day and read a little too slowly, or an important story that is in the rundown may not be finished when the show goes to air. So what does the producer do?
Start the show with too many items — a rundown that is "heavy" and when the show is on the air decide what to leave out to bring it back to time. Here is an example. All the stories are good but the show is two minutes "heavy", that is if all the items and scripts run, there will still be two minutes of material to run when the show is actually over.
Some items have to run. For example the Wednesday menu and From the Principal. Clearly the lead story about Library vandalism and the Football story also have to stay. But some items might be expendable or saved for another day. It may be a couple of copy stories or it may be a complete SOT package. The producer will have to decide what to leave out before the end of the messages from the principal's office. When the show is on the air the control room staff will know how they are doing compared with the back-times in the rundown (and also printed or written on the printed teleprompter copy). Let's imagine that the anchors have read their copy a little faster than anticipated and going into the principal's office messages the back-times say the show is only 1:57 heavy instead of the original two minutes. Based on that the producer makes a decision about what needs to be dropped to keep the show on time. What choices would you make?
Start the show with too few items in the final rundown— a rundown that is close to "on time" but is just a bit "light" and then keep a "pad" of alternate items that can be inserted if needed. Again these might be copy stories or full SOT packages. The extra material is sometimes called "over matter". The items are only used if the show is going to come out too early for the anchors to compensate for with slower reading or some ad-lib commentary. Different rundown programs have different ways to store additional material. With a program like LineupNX, the producer includes over matter in a preliminary rundown early in the day and then drops the stories from the rundown BEFORE the show is on the air. LineupNX keeps all the dropped stories in an easily accessible clipboard. Stories that are not in the rundown can be added with just a couple of key strokes.
The rundowns below illustrate this. Say that the show, going into the From the Principal item looks to be 40 seconds light. Looking at the available material, what would you choose to add to the show to bring it out on time?
If your rundown program cannot keep pads or clipboards of dropped items, there is another way to do this with the same overall effect. The producer just creates a new show block after the last item. If you create a block 2 you can put the stories there and they can be moved up into the main part of the rundown if needed. The only difficulty with this approach is that the back- times or hit-times will be incorrect unless the items that will not be used at all are dropped from that last block.
Both of these strategies work and the one you decide to use is more a matter of taste and comfort than anything else.
Next month beyond a list of stories — modern, digital rundowns connect everyone.
David Mowbray is CEO Baobab Productions, creators of LineupNX, www.lineupnx.com