On Thursday, May 29, publicist extraordinaire Kim Dower, aka Kim-from-LA, moderated three back-to-back "Media Matters" panels. The first was "Southern California Top TV Producers." Panelists were:
- Maria Hall Brown, producer & host, "Book Mark" on Real Orange on PBS station KOCE, seen throughout Los Angeles and Orange County
- Carole Chouinard, senior producer, The Tavis Smiley Show on PBS station KCET
- Barry Kibrick, producer & host of Between the Lines with Barry Kibrick, seen locally on PBS station KLCS & nationally syndicated through American Public Television
- Greg Mantell, producer & host, The Gregory Mantell Show on cable TV
- Heather Rothman, host of Book Talk with Heather Joy, on Los Angeles cable TV & soon to be syndicated in 16 European countries
Kibrick: Some of the brand-name fiction writers really stink. I've read manuscripts by my friends and thought, 'If my authors only wrote as well...'
Kim: There's a big difference between a great guest and a great book.
Mantell: Sometimes actors are terrible guests [because they're used to saying other people's words].
Kim: Sometimes actors need media training because they don't know how to talk about their books.
Chouinard: Most of the interviews on my show are 12 minutes. WIZARD OF THE CROW had a quiet author [Kenyan novelist Ngugi wa Thiong'o] with an amazing story. The publicist sent me the hardcover and all these articles about the depth of the author's experience. When the paperback came out, I went to the executive producer and Travis and said, "We have to do this author!" Travis said, "We'll make it work." It was a combination of a good publicist, me deciding to take it on and all hell breaking loose in Kenya. [The show aired in Dec 2007.]
Kim: Caring about something and pushing for it might work.
Brown: Publicists, when you want to pitch a book, don't read a script about the book and leave it on my voice mail. My favorite guests give personal anecdotes. Nonfiction writers tend to speak in generalities [which isn't good]. Persistence without harassing me pays off. I love my authors most of the time.
Kim: You have to know that the author you're pitching is worthy to go on camera.
Mantell: I sent an author home who called me in a panic from the green room, saying "I can't talk about my book." I knew it was going to be a train wreck. [Ya think?! WTF was up with that author?]
Kim: Don't ever deceive.
Kibrick: Be persistent till we say no. Once we say no, give up. Be creative. I did a segment with the guy who designed the California quarter, Garrett Burke [Quarterama]. Garrett approached me, he's a fan of the show and wanted to give me a quarter. I invited him on the show.
Kim: What about self-published authors?
Kibrick: No self-published. [The other panelists nodded in agreement.] There must be someone behind the book with deep pockets. I had Jack Klugman on for TONY AND ME [about him and Tony Randall on "The Odd Couple"] and only after the show did I find out that Jack self-published.
Kim: We have to be honest about the author and product, and what we're pitching. Know your material before you go on.
Rothman: Even a huge name can be so reticent on camera. Thirty minutes is like 3 hours. I prepare for my interview as if for a final exam. I had John Dean on and they sent questions in case I hadn't read the book--which of course I had.
Brown: I don't read press materials. [Sounds of breaking hearts throughout the room.] A lot of the time I scare interviewees because I know something about them they weren't expecting to hear. I spend the first 10 minutes breaking down their media training. [Sound of Kim's heart hitting floor.] I do my own research. I pissed off John Stossel [woohoo!!!]. The first thing I asked him made him angry for 30 minutes. I was intimidated about interviewing the late David Halberstam, but he was one of the sweetest, kindest, most gentle people I ever met.
Chouinard: I don't use the questions in the press materials. [More hearts plummeting.] I look for nuggets for Travis to mine. I usually pre-interview the author. Reviews are very helpful. I give Travis bullet points on a briefing card.
Kim: The idea of an interview is to be spontaneous, but it takes a lot of preparation to be spontaneous. [I quote Dolly Parton in my workshops: "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap!"]
Kibrick: I go deep, but I don't want to surprise the author.
Mantell: I look at a press kit for about 10 seconds, then if it interests me I look further. [More shattered hearts around the room.]
Kibrick: Author questions in a press kit are good for national a.m. TV shows.
Kim: Oftentimes that's all they'll look at.
Mantell: Send an up-to-date visual. One author sent us her photo and it turned out to be from 30 years ago.
Kim: B-roll footage is always helpful.
All: Some look at DVD of author's past appearances.
Kibrick: Let me see the book. I'm going to make the author come alive.
Kim: What advice do you have, and how should people pitch you?
Mantell: Know the show. Pitch by email: greg(at)gregorymantell.com.
Chouinard: Know your show. Tavis is African-American. We don't do "typical" Af-Am material; most people pitch too narrow. We are politics, news, current events. Pitch by email: cchouinard(at)kcet.org.
Brown: Send me the book, even if you pitch by email or phone. If I don't get back to you, try again. Email: mhall-brown(at)koce.org.
Kibrick: Email is best: barrykibrick(at)aol.com. No is no. I get hundreds of books a month. I donate every one I don't use. Books are gleaned through by my staff.
Rothman: Pitch by email: hjrothman(at)aol.com. The New Yorker likes to call in the early morning; they can't subtract 3.
Kibrick: You REALLY need to know the show.
Kim: To pitch the wrong guest to the wrong show is a waste of time.