Interview with Michael Newborn: Pitching For Producers
ABOUT: Michael is a creative and resourceful television producer with 12 years of experience in studio production for Emmy Award winning and nominated television shows. Accomplishments include generating and developing original show ideas and formats for a variety of national talk and lifestyle shows-writing scripts, casting on air experts, researching current news events and trending pop culture items,booking and interviewing studio guests. Michael has produced a variety of shows through out his career. Ice & Coco Talk Show, The Wendy Williams TV Show & The Oprah Show. Michael has also produced for some of the top cooking/food shows in the day time talk genre including; Emeril Lagasse, The Rachel Ray Show and The Chew. We caught up with him and asked him to give a few tips on how to pitch a great food segment.
PFP: How did you get started in television production? As a kid a loved entertainment. At first I thought I wanted to go into acting or singing… some sort of performing. But, honestly, I wasn’t really good enough at any of those things. I tried them all and I was good, but not good enough and it didn’t really feel like my passion. It felt close, but not quite it. I loved the business of it all. I would write tv shows as a kid and request autographed photos of the stars of my favorite shows. I would sit and stare at the photo – not because of the actor – but because I wanted to know what went into creating that photo. I wondered who set it up, who did their make-up, who took the photo, when did they take it. I wanted to know the process. In hindsight, that was my subconscious telling me I want to create television, not star in it.
Fast forward to college time, and I still wasn’t sure about going into television. I actually studied social work at first. All of my friends were in communication majors and I was so enthralled with what they were learning, that I had to eventually switch my major. I then decided to further my education at the School of Visual Arts – New York. That was the best move for me because they guaranteed job placement after graduation. It was for a temp job on set for a commercial. That was all I needed! And from there I went on to produce great television for some of the greatest daytime talk shows.
Greatest tv moment of your career: I’ve worked primarily on daytime talk shows and have so many great moments, but I the best happened when I was producing the Wendy Williams show. I actually help create and layout the hot topics portion of her show. No one knew what to do for the top of the show. But I knew Wendy’s brand so well, that I was able to craft a “host chat” that fit her style. But there was one piece of gossip in that segment of the show that I am particularly proud of. We had heard that Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Beil were getting married. No one new if the rumor was true. I had the idea to call his grandmother. Everybody’s grandmother talks too much, a celebrity’s grandmother is no exception. I knew her name and what town he grew up in, so I called everyone with that last name and started asking for her. I finally get someone on the phone and she’s not his grandmother… but just as I was about to hang up, she says… but I am her cousin and I can give you her number. And just like that I got his grandmother on the phone. She not only confirmed that he did propose, but she continued to say how much they love Jennifer and they are so happy for him. She told me the story of the proposal and when it happened. She gave me everything!
We were able to make a whole production out of it! Wendy loved it and we scooped everyone. So all of the gossip mags, blogs and news outlets used our footage and we got credit for breaking the story. It helped the show make a splash.
Advice on pitching food segments: Think of your pitch as if it’s a commercial. You have a limited time to get my attention. That’s the first step. Then once you get my attention, tell me what you’re selling. That’s the second thing. The third thing is make me want to buy what you’re selling. You should think like that because that’s how I think about my segments. Can I tease this segment before the commercial break? Can I get you interested with segment intro? Can I sell this to the audience? If it’s a beef stew segment, will this make my viewers want to get home and make beef stew? Set up your pitch in that order and it makes it easier for me to see the vision.
What makes a great food segment: Don’t over think it. Keep things in laymen’s terms. Don’t go over the audience’s head. If your recipe calls for pancetta, that’s fine, but let the viewer know they can use bacon. For a long time the trend was to have elaborate recipes and to be Julia Childs. But audiences want things on their current level. Aspiration is okay from time to time but really they want is to believe they could make it. My job is to make the audience feel like they can cook.
Gravitate towards things that people already have in their cupboard. People have access to crushed tomatoes, lemons, olive oil – give them a recipe in simple steps that they can do.
Advice for on camera: Be yourself and stay in your wheel house. And it’s always better to be too over the top because I can cut you down. If your personality doesn’t shine through, then you will not be asked back.
Stop this & Do that: Stop running us down with emails. No press release will ever inspire me to book your client for a segment. Sending me email after email is not going to make me want to work with you. What you can do is bullet your emails. I am more likely to get to it if it looks short and to the point. Another “do that” is have your clients come self-contained. Meaning bring your ingredients, be prepped on your recipe, asked questions about the kitchen, come take a look before your tape day if you can. There is no better feeling than having the host of the show say “we’ve got to have them back!”