…you and many, many others. But don’t let that put you off! This blog is about being realistic and telling it how it is but if you want something badly enough, work hard enough and have the necessary basic skills then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t get it.
If getting into television production is hard then getting into presenting is probably even harder so my advice is don’t rely on it as a regular source of income. Have another professional string to your bow.
So where do television presenters start?
As a member of the production team.
Zoe Ball did just that. She started her professional career as a runner at Granada Television, making those cups of tea, doing the odd jobs nobody else wanted to do, working on low-budget television shows. Somewhere along the way she was let loose on screen, proved her worth and the rest is history.
But be warned – there is nothing more annoying that having someone on the production team who blatantly doesn’t want to do the office job and is forever getting distracted by tapping the presenters for tips or nagging the producer for an on-screen role. By all means let your boss know of your interest but make sure you do the day job properly. The better you do the job you are employed to do, the better chance you have of being noticed and given a chance to explore other options.
I was a producer/director of tape strands (series of short films played within the live show) way back in the early days of ‘This Morning’. Having developed a self-help series I suggested I could present it myself to save money (that line always works well!). Why pay someone else and have to tell them what I want them to say on screen when I could do it myself? The boss said yes and off I went. But this was combined with my regular job producing and directing and I wasn’t paid any extra.
As a reporter.
This may be a similar route to the one above, or you may already have experience in other media (newspapers, magazines, radio) as a reporter. The most obvious kind of reporter is the one you see all the time on news programmes. They need to recognise a good story, research it, find suitable experts and case studies to interview and generally be able to direct the film themselves. I have not worked in news but it’s a fair guess that news reporters need to demonstrate a skill for journalism and would benefit from qualifications or experience in that area. You need proof of your ability to construct a story. (Read Natalie’s blog on being a news producer if you haven’t already done so: http://wanttoworkintelevision.com/so-you-want-to-work-on-the-news-desk/)
News reporters are most likely to be chosen for their journalistic skills. Reporters on other kinds of shows are more likely to be chosen for their personality and ability to engage the viewers. Programmes like the BBC’s The One Show and ITV’s ‘This Morning’ have reporters to front the short films that play out within the live show. Competition here will be fierce and some producers favour employing established celebrities to front these kinds of films. Such roles may also go to experts.
As an Expert.
Along with the rise of daytime and lifestyle television came the rise of The Television Expert. Cookery, gardening, health, property, gadgets have all become popular areas even in prime time slots and the ideal scenario is a presenter who is also the expert in that field. Ideally a producer is looking for a combination of expertise and personality. No point being the world’s best chef if you can’t engage the viewers’ attention.
If you have an area of expertise or even a keen interest then you can try selling yourself on that basis. You will need to demonstrate a passion for, as well as a knowledge of, your subject.
As a Big Mouth!
Several shows employ people purely for their opinion and their passion in sharing it. This is more likely on topical and magazine shows that want to spend time on screen discussing news stories. But again depending on the story being discussed there may be room for an ‘expert’. If the headlines are all about surrogacy and you have experience or in-depth knowledge of that area and can present your views with vigour then tout yourself around radio and television shows.
Generally though producers aim for established journalists and commentators so you are going to have to offer something original if you want to muscle in!
As a Case Study or Contestant.
Reality television has provided a whole new route into television presentation. Big Brother-style shows are an ideal opportunity to display your personality, get your name in the papers and most likely get attention from agents.
The lovely Alison Hammond did just that. She featured on Big Brother, got attention by force of her fantastic personality, came out of the house and eventually found a reporting job. I well remember the day a producer suggested her to me as a potential contributor for a feature we were doing on ‘This Morning’. My lip may well have curled in a disparaging way at the thought of employing a reality TV star but that producer had spotted her star potential. She turned out to be one of the best, liveliest and loveliest reporters I’ve worked with and the viewers just love her! (If they didn’t she wouldn’t still be on screen!).
As an Entertainer.
If your goal is to be an entertainment presenter then you are likely to be in the entertainment business already – a comedian, a Red Coat-style entertainer, a singer, an actor. Again this isn’t my area of expertise but I do know that producers are always on the look-out for the next big thing. They’d love to find the next John Barrowman, Philip Schofield or Ant and Dec.
Some entertainers manage to get a job as a warm-up host. Keeping studio audiences entertained while waiting for the show to start. This is a great way to learn about studio procedures and meet production people.
There are probably many other ways that successful television presenters have found their on-screen role but the above gives you a very general overview.
So how to approach producers?
A show reel is a must really. And it doesn’t matter if you haven’t already got any television work to include in it. You must have a digital video camera and a friend who will shoot a film for you. Think creatively, demonstrate whatever it is you are selling about yourself on the film and send it out to relevant media people. (Make sure you do your homework and that you know something about the show or company you are applying to. You need to explain how you think you could fit into their programming).
Make sure your show reel is short. Edit it down. You have computer software available to do that. If you are lucky enough to get someone to view your clip/DVD they need to be sufficiently impressed within the first 60 seconds, if not 30 seconds, in order to view any longer. These are very busy people with a mountain of show reels lying on their desk!
If you are selling your interviewing skills then make sure you include a short clip of you conducting an interview. If you are a chef then get into the kitchen and show them what you can do. Allow your personality to shine through. Demonstrate your area of expertise if you have one.
The less work a producer has to do the better. So find their direct email, send them a link so all they have to do is click on it to view your reel. Or upload something to YouTube and send them that link.
You should also send a short message or letter telling them about yourself and your qualifications and preferably include a good photo. Not a snapshot of you at the last drunken rave – a well framed, well-lit portrait shot.
In summary there are several different routes into television presenting only limited by your imagination but it won’t be easy. You need to offer something different. There are very many people who can walk and talk to camera at the same time and offer a nice smile. Can you do it any better?
We’ll get some reporters and presenters who have succeeded in achieving that goal to write something for this blog eventually. We have only skimmed the surface of this topic in this post! Watch out for more posts and advice on this subject. And if you don’t want to miss them then simply subscribe to the blog (top right of the screen).