(A sporadic series in which I plumb the conundrums of TV News...)
Ever watch a reporter in the field and wonder if they're LIVE? Trust me, if there's no glowing 'bug' in the corner saying so, they ain't. See, newscasts producers consider the live shot as a badge of courage. They'd no more refrain from proclaiming the immediacy of their actions than let that crusty burnout down the hall do the weather (I've asked). Still, their is one scenario in which the show-stackers will drop the L-Word and hope like hell you won't notice. It is the 'Look Live' - a time honored tradition and quite possibly my industry's worst kept secret. But before you lunge for the cell phone and call your lawyer, lemme 'splain...
Few crews set out to fake a live shot. Hey, you try drive a rolling billboard across the county, throw up the mast and drag out every gizmo you got. You'll wanna go through with the damn thing even if it means YOU gotta take a hostage. But stand-offs notwithstanding, it isn't always possible. Dirty weather, dead live trucks, forgotten water towersblocking you signal - any number of real world conditions can can cause the loftiest producer plans to come crashing down. What's dressed-up reporter to do? Simple, just get int front of the camera, wait for you photog to roll tape, then nod knowingly like Chet McDimplechin is asking you about that smoke plume in the distance, then start talkin'. When you're out of info, give it a generic 'Back To You' and freeze that furrowed brow until you shooter hits stop. Race that puppy back to the shop and hide under your desk while your seemingly Live visage bounces around the ether. Don't worry though, the director will drop the LIVE bug, no one will know the difference and you'll soon be able to troll the local food court with your your hair-do held high.
There is a secondary aspect to all this play-acting and I find it fascinating. It doesn't matter if your on-air partner truly is that 'bubbleheaded bleach blonde who can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eye' - tell her to do a Look Live and she'll surely fumble her lines. It's almost as if the knowledge that you can mess up and start over requires you to do so. Hey I got pals you could slip a Roofie to and they could still host a telethon. But make 'em pretend to be live and they'll muck it up so bad you'll wish you'd brought a lawn chair. So let's review, shall we? 'Look Lives' are piss-poor television and will be driven from existence as soon as laptops replace live trucks and the idea of some pretty schlub playing host to the news will seem as odd as - well, acting like you're live when you're not. So, if you're playing at home watch for stammering speech patterns, nervous reporters and odd pauses between anchor tosses. Spot all three and you'll know there's skullduggery afoot. As for whether the Look Live truly is deceitful, well - that depends on what the meaning of "IS" is ... right, Bill?