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Good, bad and healthy TV images

Bulging belts. Straining buttons. Moans and groans. Whispered cliches … “Ah till ya wot … no doubt about it … for all ya folks at home …” Hosts dwarfing most NFL players. Expert hunters huffing and puffing up a ladder to an elevated shooting shack yards from a bait pile. Anglers grunting and gasping while fumbling a fish, vowing to “go for a bigger one.” Big-game hunters not wearing a stitch of blaze orange. Where are the life jackets? Does anybody walk to a deer stand? Male hosts and guests chuckling after sexist comments and innuendoes. From a hospital bed, I window-shop TV’s lineup of outdoors shows. Such offerings are welcome distraction from heart-monitoring patches and IV tubes attached everywhere. A scary incident of atrial fibrillation while taping a duck hunting segment landed me in this bed aglow in TV mayhem. Twenty-six hours later my heart converted thanks to drugs and rest. “No restrictions” were the cardiologist’s discharge notations. Those “Why me?” and “How come?” head games are fading. Same cannot be said for the images of rotund, blabbering celebrities professing how good they feel outdoors. Really? Kill-shot lusting and showing little respect for fish and game, these digital woodsmen more than fill poorly edited scenes with not-so-subtle marketing of embroidered clothing, glistening guns, gas-guzzling boats, cutting-edge bows and gurgling ATVs. My bed-bound ratings are not flattering. What do advertisers get for their sizeable investments? Did these show hosts and producers ever take a journalism or writing course? (Ron Schara, you’re absolutely right about sloppy narration and poor storytelling being the norm and not the exception in today’s outdoors programming. See Schara’s article, “The Rest of the Story” in Outdoors Unlimited, October 2008.) After words and stories, the image issue is paramount in any type of TV. Images attract, details inform. From my early TV days I was warned that TV’s illusions add at least 10 pounds to a person’s appearance. Initially, my 6foot, 3-inch frame scaled around 220 pounds. But I was crushed by the first person who greeted me at a sports show with: “Gosh, you’re not as fat as you look on television!” While I trained to maintain that weight, my waistline grew, but not my height. On that hospital bed, the digital scale kicked out 249 pounds. An active, supposedly healthy person is how I portrayed myself on TV and believed myself to be. What I was doing wrong — eating, drinking, overworking, not getting the right exercise and letting stress rule – are habits I pondered during two days of hospital care. Times like these a person makes all sorts of pledges to self and family. (I’ve already lost close to 20 pounds in five weeks.) First, I realize that many in outdoors television are indelibly addicted to the outdoors and hope to translate that affair into the best programming they can produce. But do they consider how they and their actions look to impressionable audiences? Here are some examples of shortcomings, and suggestions, from questions and comments I’ve received:

  • “Why don’t you wear a life vest all the time? My kids are watching!” (I often wear a personal flotation device while under way or encountering rough waters.)
  •  “Why do you flip fish into the water?” (Some do, many don’t. I admire and photograph while holding them in a natural horizontal position, then quickly slip them into the water.)
  • “Some hunters appear to be pointing guns at the camera or others in your group.” (Some TV hunters do get sloppy with guns. This is big – insist that all practice gun safety rules to the letter!)
  • “Why is the weather always great?” (We do bring in the weather factors as they are as much part of the real outdoor experience as sunny, bluebird days.)
  • “People on your show look so stiff” and “Isn’t there a lot of staging?” (Lighten up and inject sensible humor when appropriate. Carefully edit sequences that are real or exact replicas of the witnessed event – viewers are very perceptive!)
  • Research your stories for interesting in-depth angles that truly separate what you’re doing from weaker products.
  • Strive for informative “intros” and “segues” that enhance reports, not just fill time! Try spontaneous afield scenes and dialogue.
  • Viewers regard that “billboard” look on clothing, boats and vehicles superficial and boring.
  • Musical soundbeds are OK as links and, in a pinch, in the absence of natural sound. Long stretches of music are irritating and deprive viewers of information producers should be adding instead injecting banjo music or rock ’n’ roll. Besides, what beats nature’s music? Nat sound should rule!
  • What’s with this “whispering” and “subtitle” craze? If dialogue isn’t audible on the first pass, don’t air it!
  • Finally, look at yourself and what you’re doing!

By all means stay as healthy as the outdoors world you’re trying to reflect. carlsonDave Carlson, of Eau Claire, Wis., is writer, producer and host of the outdoors TV show “Northland Adventures” and a former OWAA board member. [print_link]

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