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Hostile environment

December 5, 2000

Bad pairings on the anchor desk can spell trouble for the rest of the TV newsroom

By Jim Kershner
The Spokesman-Review

Their names go together like “Regis and Kathie Lee” or “Katie and Matt.” They smile together from buses and billboards. They banter back and forth between news stories.

But does the friendly companionship common among TV co-anchors mask a more complicated relationship?

Of course it does.

This has become especially clear in the wake of the recent controversy over the firing of Randy Shaw by KHQ-6.

Three former Spokane news anchors – Marianne Mishima, Rick Douglas and Scott Bayens – recently agreed to talk about this subject. They didn’t speak specifically about Randy Shaw and Penny Daniels. These three don’t claim to know exactly what happened at KHQ-6 over the last two years.

Yet these three TV veterans can enlighten viewers about the challenge that every TV newsroom must deal with and that may be an underlying issue in the KHQ controversy: the elusive search for good chemistry between anchors.

“It’s no exaggeration to say it’s a shotgun marriage,” said Douglas, former KXLY and KHQ-6 anchor. “A man and a woman – oftentimes two strangers – are thrown together for more hours in a day than each might spend with a spouse.”

“I always call it an arranged marriage,” said Mishima, a former KXLY-4 anchor.

Douglas, who is now a news anchor in Bangor, Maine, has shared a newsroom with many anchor teams and has been part of many others. He considers himself “lucky” in the pairings he has had, yet his overall verdict about good anchor chemistry: “It’s as rare as snow in July.”

“You’re kind of joined at the hip, and it can be nightmarish,” said Mishima.

Mishima said she has experienced the entire spectrum of anchor chemistry during her 16 years in television (she left the business entirely a year ago). She said she has had partners who were “kind, intelligent people you could respect,” yet she also has had … well, the opposite.

“Part of the relationship requires you to cover the other person’s rear end,” she said. “If you miss a script, or the teleprompter goes dead, the other person can do one of two things: They can help you out, or they can watch you go splat.”

And she has had some partners who did exactly that.

“I’ve had co-anchors who refused to talk to me off the air or even on the air,” said Mishima. “I’ve had a co-anchor who would pretend to be looking at me but was actually looking right past me.”

Nobody ever said that anchors have to love each other, but it’s important that they at least seem to have some respect for each other.

“Viewers aren’t stupid,” said Bayens, a former KAYU-28 news anchor who has worked in Raleigh, N.C.; Mobile, Ala.; and Grand Junction, Colo. “They can determine consciously or subconsciously if the anchors are reacting in a positive and viable way to each other.

“If they do get along, it reflects positively on the organization as a whole.”

And if they don’t get along, viewers are uncomfortable. And uncomfortable viewers tend to become former viewers.

“It affects ratings,” said Mishima.

“Ultimately, if these people don’t get along, it means the relationship won’t last. And people like consistency.”

What causes bad chemistry?

The causes are as varied as they are in any relationship, aggravated by issues of ego, age, gender and professional status.

The anchor-pairing formula has numerous variations, but Bayens said one common combination is an older father figure matched with a younger woman.

This is a formula rife with difficulties.

“There are a few male anchors who sometimes have trouble working with a strong woman,” said Mishima. “Just being a strong woman with strong opinions can be a problem.”

Sometimes the problem is professional experience – or a lack thereof.

When Douglas was the executive producer of a news broadcast on the East Coast, the show’s male anchor was an experienced journalist with a master’s degree in English. His female anchor was a former Las Vegas dancer.

This was not a match made in TV producer heaven.

“He refused to speak with her on the set and threw things after the newscast was over,” said Douglas. “She often left the station in tears.

“My boss would come in the next day and browbeat me for not getting the two of them to like each other.”

Just about any simmering personal differences can boil over in the high-pressure atmosphere of a TV newsroom. And it affects more people than just the two principals.

“It affects at least two other people on the team – the sports and weather anchors – plus all of the producers and reporters,”said Mishima. “Doing a live news show is an incredible output of energy, and if you have to spend all of your energy hoping something won’t explode, it goes straight to your morale.”

“It can create factions in the newsroom,” said Bayens. “They have to take sides.

“It will do nothing but divide the newsroom in half. Even worse, it might create a third faction that says, `I just don’t care,’ and which becomes completely apathetic.”

The problem begins with the way anchors are paired by management. Anchors are often thrown together for reasons of appearance or image or demographics.

Yet the anchors themselves don’t always have a choice in the matter.

“They say, `You will get along. You will like each other, because that’s your job,’” said Douglas, who was KXLY’s main news anchor from 1987 to 1992 and anchored at KHQ from 1993 to 1998. “Then what happens is, for every working hour that you are there, you will be chained to this person.”

When bad chemistry begins its corrosive work, there isn’t usually much that either party can do about it.

Complaining to your co-anchor is often a bad idea. Complaining to management can be worse, especially if the other party finds out.

Sometimes consultants are brought in to help anchors work through their personal and professional differences. But, as in marriage counseling, it works only if both partners want it to.

After that, the options are limited.

“You can either decide you’re going to stay, or you get another job someplace else,” said Mishima. “Meanwhile, you don’t feel good about what you’re putting out on the air.”

Despite all of this, all three said they have experienced the camaraderie and satisfaction of good working partnerships.

Bayens said his relationship with co-anchor Linda Stratton and the rest of the KAYU on-air team was excellent. They were all working together on a new and exciting endeavor.

But, like many endeavors in the TV world, it didn’t last. The partnership lasted only 5 months because of serious differences between Bayens and management over news content.

“Like the news itself, the situations we find ourselves in change,” said Douglas. “And it’s not like the theater, where you can bury your sorrows or problems in the scripted words on the stage.

“TV anchors are laid bare every night for all the world to see. And if they hate each other to begin with, there’s no escaping the ugly truth.”

Tuesday, December 5, 2000


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