Here it. is another early-early shift and I've got to put something interesting on Teh Innernets.* For all that it a self-imposed obligation, it is one nonetheless.
A comment by C.J. Cherryh on Facebook about noticing a number of female TV presenters and guests with voices that are, for want of a better term, squeaky had me musing on the odd skills and personal traits that go into being worth a darn on Teh Toob. And about why so many of them are, well, not people you'd want to hang around with all that much, and I'm not meanin' politics.
At the entry level, there are Subject-Matter Experts and Local Leaders who, if they happen to have moderately interesting personalities and can ignore the camera, often come across very well.
Newly-minted On-Air Employees, on the other hand, are often self-conscious and you may wonder why. After all, aren't they in control of everything, there at the center of attention?
Nope. Center of attention, sure, but they control nothing. Not a single thing, and they never will. Instead, they have a producer mumbling in their ear, while they're trying to read from a teleprompter -- big, ugly print, four or five lines on the screen and no more than three words across, scrolling past at a rate that either they control (not easy) or someone else controls (even harder). The good ones are reading the whole screen while saying what's on the second line down; that way, they know when punctuation or an unexpected word is approaching. They may even have read the script once beforehand. If they fall behind, they can end up reading the bottom line instead, which makes for frequent surprises and those oddly...placed pauses you...may sometimes notice. Meanwhile, they are at the mercy of a floor director pointing them to which camera to look at -- or having to follow the red light, if no one is working the floor (like everywhere else, staffing in the "fast-paced, high-paying television industry" is being reduced and reduced). And they're at the mercy of a director picking which camera that will be to suit the needs of the presentation, no matter how unflattering or how awkward the move to face it. How they look, what they wear and how they cut their hair is determined by others, though usually carried out by them, and they typically find out if they did it wrong after they've gone on the air with it and their boss calls them in for a dressing-down once the show is over.
Anyone who can manage that, especially if they're reasonably good-looking and have some skill at gathering and reporting news or sports, would have to have an especially irritating voice for it to be a career-ender. And anyone who can hold up under that kind of pressure, over so many niggling little things, is likely to be self-contained to a degree that people who doesn't do that kind of work will find off-putting. Like fireman, policeman, soldiers or the guys who build tall buildings and high towers, those crazy people inside your television do a high-pressure job that really cannot be understood unless you've done it -- and if you do it for very long, you'll end up like them. (And without even the element of risk the other jobs I mentioned have, which gives others a glimpse of what it must be like.) They are so far from controlling anything that many become quite demanding over little things, probably without even realizing it's a grab for something they can control directly.
Me? I was on the air in radio when I was much younger. I was on the air on TV a few times back then and found it terrifying. I don't know how Howdy Doody did it, and at least he had someone else moving him around! Mind you, just because I have some empathy for people in that job doesn't mean I like them any better than any of their co-workers or neighbors; I just understand that's pretty much how they've got to be.
* Some people really like mine. And didja know there's a whole book on the history and sociology of the footnote? Bought it on sight, of course.†
† Or second sight, I suppose -- I did leaf through it first.
T. R. MCELROY'S STREAMLINED TELEGRAPH KEYS
9 months ago