By Paul Lepisto
It’s been said the most exercised muscles in an American’s body are in the hand that changes the channels on a TV remote. With the large number of channels most people have to choose from, channel surfing has become a popular pastime. That being said, a phrase that should be placed in every editing suite of all the producers of outdoor television is this: You only get one chance to make a first impression. Today, more than ever before, producers have to be aware of what they are putting in their shows and how the images and sounds could be interpreted by the audience.
Hunters and anglers make up only a small percentage of the U.S. population. The only exposure a lot of the general public has to these activities is what they see on TV while cruising past when an outdoor show is on. That’s why it is so critical that TV producers make sure they put their best foot forward in every scene of every show. It may be only a short sequence, a few seconds of a 30-minute program, but if that is what a non-hunter or non-angler happens to see, it could shape or form their overall impression of hunting or fishing.
This was addressed during a session titled “As Seen on TV: The Hunter’s Image” at last summer’s annual OWAA conference in Bismarck, N.D. TV show hosts Ron Schara and Babe Winkelman discussed this topic. Frankly, I think it’s one of the most pressing issues facing outdoor TV today. I’m a lifelong hunter and angler and I cringe while watching some of the shows today. I don’t have a problem with “impact shots” on big game or birds. I do, however, have a lot of trouble seeing prolonged footage of an animal or bird struggling away after the shot. I know it is part of hunting, but as producers, you don’t have to show it. That’s why it is called “editing.” You have to remember your show may be the first and perhaps only impression of hunting that a viewer will ever get.
Another thing I have noticed on some shows is a lack of respect for the fish and game the host claims to “love.” OK, to demonstrate this point, I want you to start holding your breath – now.
It isn’t just the hunting shows; fishing programs also have to be careful with the way they present themselves. (Are you still holding your breath?)
I have seen “anglers” on some shows practically rip hooks out of a fish’s mouth then toss the fish back into the water with little regard to its health or condition. How long does it take to release the fish the right way?
(Don’t breathe yet.)
Also, I continually see people unhook a bass, then while holding the fish by its lip, turn the bass horizontality to the camera. This can damage or even dislocate the fish’s jaw. Support the fish’s body with your other hand, then release it.
Still holding your breath? Are you wondering why I keep asking? Because I’ve seen many hosts catch a fish, unhook it, then go into a long pitch for one of their sponsor’s products, going on and on about a lure, rod, reel, line, trolling motor, electronics, boat, sunglasses – all the while holding the fish out of the water where it can’t breathe. Depending on your reading speed, you’ve been holding your breath for 30 seconds to about a minute. I’ve timed hosts holding a fish out of water for more than a minute and a half! Why? If you think it’s no big deal for the fish, reverse the situation: Stick your head under water for 90 seconds. Breathing isn’t a luxury.
Bird-hunting programs, particularly those on waterfowl, occasionally show people retrieving shot birds. Often the hunters carelessly toss or throw the birds to the ground, which begs the question: What are you doing out there if you have no more respect for your quarry than that? How much does it take to treat the bird with respect?
A lot of responsibility goes with producing an outdoor TV show. You are representing hunting and fishing and all anglers and hunters. You have the chance to send a message. The message can be a good one, presenting hunting and angling as the wonderful recreational pursuits they are. Or you can send a different message, one that says all hunters and anglers are “slobs” who have little or no respect for the fish or game they are after. Ethical behavior is important for everyone. It is critical for those in the business of producing outdoor television, because you only have one chance to make a good first impression. ◊
Paul Lepisto, of Pierre, S.D., was an award-winning producer of “Tony Dean Outdoors TV” for 18 years and now works for the Izaak Walton League of America. He joined OWAA in 1992.