"I think people should give the show a chance."
That's what Leah Lipkowitz, a columnist with Global Montreal's Morning News, commented on the review I gave the show earlier this month. I'd heard the same thing from people involved with the show before its launch and even on the air.
It's a common refrain from people behind new projects, particularly when budgets are tight. I'm never quite sure how to handle it.
It's not that I want to be mean, or that I don't understand that new shows improve over time. Rather, it's that my reviews of these things are about the viewer, and viewers aren't going to stick around for weeks to see if a new TV series is good or not. They'll tune in the first day, maybe stick around an hour or two if they really want to evaluate it, and then they'll make their decision whether it's worth their time.
Broadcasters know this, which is why they do rehearsals before they go to air. Why even bother with the rehearsals if you're going to build a show on the fly?
So as much as I would have been happy to wait a week, a month or six months before evaluating Global Montreal Morning News, I know that you only get one chance to make a first impression, and I have to evaluate it based on that.
In my review, I pointed out that the show is plagued with technical problems. Things aren't cued up properly, graphics are incorrect, audio levels aren't right, just about every mistake you can make with live TV seemed to transpire during my viewing of its first week.
I concluded that there were two possible causes of this:
- the technical staff had been insufficiently trained on the new production system and needed more time to get things running smoothly;
- the station hired an insufficient number of technical staff and they were being overwhelmed trying to do jobs of multiple people
If it was the first one, we'd start seeing improvement as the staff got more shows under their belt. If it was the second, there would be an upper limit to that improvement and the show would always be plagued with technical glitches.
So I promised to review the show again after a month to see what the difference was.
Today, Feb. 28, marks one month since Morning News went to air. I've watched a few shows, including yesterday's and this morning's, with an eye toward those technical issues.
The good news is that things are getting better. The bad news is they're not getting better fast enough.
The severity of technical issues is diminishing. I didn't count anything close to the 17 seconds of awkward silence or full two minutes of end-of-show filler that I'd seen in the first two weeks.
But their frequency remains about the same. Every segment has at least one thing that's immediately noticeable by even a mildly attentive television viewer.
Most of them relate to either timing or audio.
Timing refers to throwing to commercial, coming back from commercial, going to traffic reports (now being done audio-only by the morning traffic reporter at 92.5 The Beat), or going to just about anything on tape. Anything that involves waiting for a technician to push a button seems to take noticeably longer than it should. But only a second or two in most cases.
The problems with audio are a bit more severe. This morning's show actually included an on-air apology after an interview in which the subject's microphone didn't work. It was odd because I heard the interviewee fine (through the host's mic) and I've heard far more severe audio problems at this show go without apology.
Often the right microphones aren't activated, which means we'll hear an in-studio report from Jessica Laventure through the lapel microphone of one of the anchors sitting six feet away. Just as distracting, almost every throw to commercial involves hot microphones, so viewers hear discussions (often whispered) in the studio underneath the audio from whatever music video clip they're playing to send to commercial. I haven't heard anything particularly embarrassing yet, but you figure it'll come eventually (unless the hosts just start assuming that their microphones stay live for 20 seconds after they stop talking).
I've seen multiple instances where an anchor is cut off mid-sentence because what is supposed to be B-roll is cued with the sound up. Once the video stops, the audio cuts back to the anchor, again in mid-sentence.
It's all the kind of stuff that sounds like it could be greatly diminished if they just put an extra body in the control room.
The effect of technical trouble like this isn't just that a piece of video will show up a second or two late. On-air talent need to trust that their technical staff will make things work for them. Repeated failures like this break that trust, meaning hosts will start to hesitate, become awkward (unless they make a joke about it, but that's opening a door to ridicule).
Television is magic, but these technical problems are the equivalent of a magician guessing the wrong card and then awkwardly trying to figure out the right one.
Not to mention that even a couple of seconds of awkward silence can be enough to get a TV viewer searching the Discovery Channel for that Mythbusters rerun.
The what's-the-time show
Content-wise, the show still has quite a bit of work to do to remain interesting. Much of the content is repeated, not just by talking about the same stories every half hour, but by talking about them in the exact same way, using the same five-second clip or two-minute package, the same script. I realize people are going to tune in for short periods and want their headlines, but at that level of repetition some variety would make it easier to digest.
The hosts are also still relying on crutches that they fill airtime with when they don't know what to say. Having a different cheer for every day of the week got old pretty quick (as did their long quest to find one for Thursdays). And Richard Dagenais's near obsession with reading out the time every time he starts speaking, even though the time is displayed on the screen, and most people have clocks in their homes, is also annoying some viewers. (They've finally installed a digital clock in the studio, so he doesn't have to keep checking his iPhone for the time.)
What's getting better?
Some things are getting better as the show progresses. The traffic report improved hugely after it was outsourced to The Beat, though it's really just a radio traffic report given on TV. They're also better at showing all three of their traffic maps (Laval, West Island and downtown) instead of getting stuck on the Laval one.
The number of typos and errors in graphics is also going down (the example above notwithstanding).
And as Richard Dagenais and Camille Ross get to know each other better, their chemistry is starting to slowly improve. Both of them still have a way to go, I think, before they really start connecting with their audience.
Jessica Laventure and her wacky field cameraman Yannick Gadbois are still entertaining as long as they remain unencumbered by technical difficulties. (Laventure doesn't seem to have any permanent home yet, often doing the show from the studio or at different locations. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it means she can be sent to places that are more newsworthy. But that doesn't seem to have been the original intent.)
Columnists are still hit-and-miss for me, though that might have more to do with my lack of interest in their subjects than their abilities on air.
Still needs work
In short, the show is still way off-key, and needs a lot of work before it starts to really sing. Unfortunately, we're in a ratings survey period now for local English TV, which means the results that come out in May will reflect the state of Morning News as it is, not as it will be. And if the results aren't good, they'll have to wait until January 2014 for the next set of numbers.
I'm still willing to give the show a chance. I can re-evaluate it after six months, after a year, after two years, however long it takes. But viewers have no obligation to wait before coming to their own decisions about how to spend their time in the morning.