behind the scenes

Teases: Useless Gimmick or Necessary Evil?

9:00:00 AM

Writing teases for a newscast is sort of like seduction, except you don't necessarily like the people you're seducing into your show...

It's an acquired skill, one that's developed over time. It isn't easy. It's not something you just pick up. In fact, it's probably the most dreaded part of the show. Dreaded but necessary.

Every network uses teases. They serve a purpose - to let your audience know what will be aired and when they can see it.

It's safe to say that in a given day I write more teases than stories. There are the teases that start off our shows, the teases within a show that let viewers know what's coming up after the break, teases that promote other shows, and teases that run independently of any show to let viewers know what stories will be in which newscast.

I guess you could say I've had a lot of practice with tease writing. Four years in this business has taught me a lot. I'm no expert, but I do have a bag of tricks I dip into often when it comes to writing teases.

Some stories are just naturally more entertaining than others and the teases practically write themselves. Other stories are dull. Let's face it, finding a way to make sewer replacement interesting enough for a viewer to want to hear the story isn't a cake walk. But it can be done.

As I just said, stories about sewer renovations are hard to tease. However, one of my most creative teases ever was about such a story. One of the towns we cover was putting in new sewer lines; city officials hoped the work would attract new businesses. My tease: "Coming up, an area city thinks the road to new business lies in the sewer." Good, right?

There are ways to tap into that creativity for every tease you write. Perhaps the simplest way to write a great tease is to latch onto the most interesting piece of information in that story. Give your audience one piece of information - just enough to hook them - just enough to make them want more.

One of the biggest things I stress when I'm teaching tease writing is to not get attached to complete sentences. Fragments may be frowned upon in grammar class but not in tease writing. "Startling new statistics about teens texting while driving" sounds so much sexier than "There are new statistics about teens texting behind the wheel." Short, punchy lines grab the attention more than complex sentences; they also add a sense of drama without sounding forced.

One thing to remember is that a tease is just that - a tease. It's not a mini story. You shouldn't give your audience everything. They need a reason to stay because, trust me, most of them are looking for a reason to change the channel (and probably call in to complain).

But if you promise something that you don't deliver, the whole purpose of the tease is lost. This can happen if you tease a story that isn't even in your show or if you tease a story the wrong way. That's why it's so important to read the story before you tease it. Sounds simple, right? Well, all too often that simple step is skipped. I've fallen victim to this before on days when I was rushed. Not only did my error make us sound like we didn't know what we were talking about, but those errors also run the risk of jeopardizing our audience's trust.

A tease is no good if it doesn't fulfill its purpose. If it fails to keep your audience tuned in or lies to them (regardless of intentions) about the nature of the story, it might as well not have run in the first place. With that being said, a newscast can survive without teases. It's not ideal, but a generic "We'll be right back" is preferable to a bad tease or one that just says "We'll have more news, weather and sports coming up."

As a producer I get the point of teases. As a viewer, I kind of think they're pointless. Generally, I hate writing them, not because I'm bad at it but because sometimes there's only one way to tease a story and I have to tease it three times. Sometimes there's no way to get around a boring story. Other times my creative juices cook up a tantalizing tease that's full of cleverness. My favorite days are those when I get to be corny or use a pun.

Most days I wonder if my efforts are completely lost on my audience. I question the effectiveness of teases in general and think why bother? But in the end, teases are a useless gimmick that is a necessary evil, and as long as I am a producer I will continue to write them.

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