Coaching the Worst Show in the World

Imagine great news: you have just been hired as a program director or news director!

Then the bad news: your job includes a show so godawful bad that you wonder how they were hired in the first place.

I have been there many times as a talent coach. Let’s begin with some perspective: Every show has problems.

The harsh truth is that most TV/radio shows and podcasts are not very good. For that matter, most songs, books, plays, and movies are not very good either. Only a tiny percentage are great.

But all of them can improve. Once you accept that premise, your perspective changes from a negative critic to helpful coach and you become valuable as a leader.

Unless your show is a raging HR dumpster fire or just completely un-coachable, here are some philosophies that will help you guide even the most challenged on-air performers.

  • Focus on positives. Sometimes it may seem difficult to find any, but even the smallest strength can be built upon.
  • Focus on actions. Avoid judging the person while encouraging behaviors that lead to success. Negative words like “lazy,” “difficult,” etc. may occur to you in frustration, but saying them will not help.
  • Believe in them. Science proves that teachers who see potential in students get better results. They will only feel supported if you actually believe in them.
  • Talk big picture. Explain the impact that the show’s performance has on their teammates and the organization. Be precise about performance expectations.
  • Take small steps. Collaborate with them on 2-3 specific improvements at a time, master those and then add more.
  • Listen. Ask what they think the problems are, identify the issues that are on your list too and begin work on those first.
  • Consider “The Train Conversation.” As in, ‘there is a train coming and you are on the tracks.” Asking if they really want to continue the show has been effective for us – if done authentically and not as a threat. Do not have The Train Conversation until you mean it.

When a show underperforms, quick-fix management often jumps to replace established players with lower-salary newcomers. This can lead to a revolving door of personalities which frustrates audiences and advertisers, costing more in the long run.

At some point, the decision to change players may become inevitable. Smart executives weigh that move carefully because the emotional bond between audiences and talent takes time. Saving an existing show is often more efficient and profitable than starting over.