What are the most common mistakes we hear in ensemble television, radio, and podcast shows? Here are the top three and what to do about them.
Talk-over and interruptions
A multi-player show sometimes becomes a cacophonous din where no one is understood. On new shows, there is sometimes a lot of stepping on toes as until teams develop a conversational rhythm. Both are frustrating for audiences.
Women are often interrupted by men in workplace conversations according to numerous studies. Women are talked over more often in on-air conversations too.
Establish mic order. Like contestants on Dancing with The Stars, plan dance steps with your partner before the music starts. Mic order is not strictly scripted but it gives players a road map that makes conversation easier for listeners to follow.
A better cure is listening. Like improvisational theatre, the best team players wait for a half-second before responding. Ironically, super listeners like Howard Stern are able to interrupt guests strategically to hurry things along when needed without ruining the conversation for listeners.
Speaking of Howard Stern, there are still a few shows where one charismatic host dominates the word count. But 2020 audiences prefer ensemble conversations because that is where the chemistry, conflict, and comedy happen.
Jerry Seinfeld is plenty talented, but I’ve noticed that the funniest episodes Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee on Netflix are when his guest shares the spotlight and carries equal weight in the conversation.
Consider the episode when Jerry had coffee with Fred Armisen in my hometown of Portland:
Fred: Have you been to Italy?
Jerry: It’s amazing that it only functions on this level of charm.
Jerry: Without that – it’s like the young pretty girl that never ages. That’s Italy.
Jerry: She never gets old never loses her allure and you can’t get enough of it.
Jerry: And it survives but all other beauty on earth fades.
Jerry: Except Italy.
Other chats in that episode were more balanced, but the one-word answers here stall the conversation. Good conversational teammates interject while building on what was just said. Like the Chris Rock episode where they discuss how rare great public speakers are:
Chris: Do you think Superman could talk to a thousand people at one time?
Jerry: Superman could, yeah.
Chris: He can get their attention because he would bend something first. But to just get up in front of a thousand people and start talking….
Jerry: They would give him a few minutes and then if he was not funny…
Chris: Every time he would lose their attention he would have to break something…
Jerry: He would lose the room.
Chris: …or burn something with his x-ray vision…
I call this mowing the same grass twice. Making a point and then restating the same point with a little rephrasing.
Here’s an example from a rock morning show debating whether older guys should be seen in public wearing a ball cap backward.
Host: You have maybe two years left on the backward ball cap. As you get older it’s tough. Only certain people can get away with it. Unless you are a ballplayer you have two years may be on the backward ball cap.
Sometimes a host repeats themselves, and sometimes a host repeats something that has already been saying. Either way, it’s the same grass. Mow it once.
Circular arguments are another example of reiteration, where debate bogs down with each player stating and re-stating their argument. Here are two sportscasters we will call “A” and “B” discussing a college team mascot:
A: Let’s go back to this comment about The Murphy State Racer mascot. It’s an animal.
B: No, it’s a mascot.
A: it’s a horse.
B: it’s a “racer.”
A: Is that not a horse? It’s a breed of horse.
B: Racers are people who racehorses.
A: But the baseball team mascot is a horse!
B: A racer is not a horse.
To keep the audience’s attention, each player makes a point once before introducing new ideas and stories that move the conversation forward.