I love the NFL Draft. I know it’s boring to a lot of people. They see it as nothing more than a televised HR meeting. For me though, it is like a graduation ceremony for college football, which is my favorite sport. The Draft is appointment viewing for me every year.
This year I was especially excited, not just for the draft itself, but because ESPN finally realized that intelligent college football commentary was missing from its panel in the first round. The Mothership added Kirk Herbstreit from College Gameday, and for those of us that prefer the college game, it made a world of difference. It separated ESPN not only from the NFL Network, but also from its own draft telecasts of years past.
One thing that especially stood out to me was how much Herbie seemed to understand his role and was able read his partners for the night. That is what inspired today’s column. Herbstreit was willing to defer to Mel Kiper Jr. often. He seemed to listen with genuine interest when Louis Riddick talked about the realities of the war room on Draft Day. For the first time in years, it seemed like the guys at the center of ESPN’s draft coverage genuinely liked each other.
All of us have been in partnerships where we really like the person that sits across from us. We’ve all been in working relationships where we kind of can’t stand that person too. Do you let the listeners know that is the case? You might, even if you don’t do it on purpose.
Think about the NFL Draft on ESPN the last two seasons, when Jon Gruden was in the chair that belonged to Herbstreit last week. Gruden and Kiper clearly didn’t see eye to eye, and although they tried to end every disagreement with laughter, it came across as exactly what it was – over the top, fake, and meant to distract you from the discord that so clearly exists.
We’re all adults in this business, but we all have egos and feelings. Can you put out a great product if 50% of its success depends on someone you simply do not get along with? I think you can. If the best you can hope for is that you two don’t hate each other, but just aren’t really friends, then you and your partner have to exhibit a level of maturity and respect for one another despite your personal differences.
First, remember that if it happened on-air, it probably wasn’t personal. Anyone that thinks they are being funny can go overboard and that is usually when feelings get hurt. Address it quickly and calmly. The less time these moments have to fester, the better.
If you are the offending party, acknowledge that your partner’s feelings are valid. Don’t tell them to get over it or accuse them of being a cry baby. A quick apology and acknowledgement that you were in the wrong can diffuse tension.
Next, if there is an off-air problem, confront it. Be open and honest about why there is tension. Again, it doesn’t make sense to let these things fester. In this case, no one really has to even apologize. Just do each other the courtesy of letting the other know what is wrong. I know this seems like it would be very uncomfortable, but remember that being awkward about these things significantly hurts your show.
This part will sound like a rule in a 3rd grade classroom, but it is really important. Don’t talk about your problems with your partner behind their back. If you need to have a mediator of some sort, fine. Your PD, or even HR if it gets to that point, can fill that role. You don’t need the show’s dirty laundry aired in a way that creates an environment of “you have to choose sides” in the hallways of your office. Who does that help?
Your gut probably tells you that if you are part of a larger cast that tension with one member is no big deal. That is simply not true, especially if you are constantly talking about that tension behind your partner/adversary’s back. Then you are creating that “you have to choose sides” environment within the show itself. Why would you want to do that?
Finally, don’t bring the bullshit on air, especially if all it is is an accumulation of bullshit. It sounds childish. Moreover, it’s genuinely hard to listen to. Most listeners aren’t prone to take sides if tension exists in your show. They are more likely to seek out an alternative.
I hope this column is one that is not necessary for the majority of people reading it. I was just so overwhelmed by how much more pleasant ESPN’s NFL Draft broadcast was this year, especially because the reason that was the case was so obvious.
A show may be made up of several different personalities. Your listeners may even have favorites or favorite aspects of each individual character. Remember though, the show will always be THE SHOW first and foremost in your listener’s mind. You want to be honest and entertaining, but you also want to protect what you have built. Don’t let personal differences derail your professional accomplishments. Show a little maturity and respect each other enough to be honest and you can avoid the pitfalls that come along from simply being two very different people.