What is the most important weapon an executive producer can have in his or her arsenal? A deep rolodex gives you an advantage, but it isn’t a necessity. A creative mind is a little more important, but plenty of shows succeed without a producer that tries to package every story in a unique way.
It is far more important that a producer is a good people person. Last week, I wrote about how trust and empowerment can give a producer the ability to truly impact his or her show. This week, I want to talk about the best way a producer can use those things when they are given to him or her.
Any time two or more people work together in the same department or on the same project, those people have a relationship. Their overall success will usually depend on how well they work with one another. Everyone doesn’t have to be best friends. They just have to be willing to take criticism and know how to get the message across when they need more from their teammates.
In my piece last week, I said that a program director has to trust a producer to be his or her voice in the room. The flip side of that is that a producer has to look at his or her role as the program director of a single show.
There is a reason so many program directors started out as producers. When you’re behind the board you have to think about everything that can make a show better, but your primary role is building and managing relationships. When a producer has a strong relationship with his or her host(s), the producer knows what buttons to push to get the most out of them.
Like with any relationship, what buttons to push and how to get the most out of your host depends largely on the host’s personality. Every host brings his or her own level of ego and coachability into the equation. A good producer is one that recognizes the differences and adjusts to them. If a host is going to respect you enough to treat you like a partner, you have to respect him or her enough to learn how he or she best takes direction.
Think of it in terms of NBA coaches. I’ve been a fan of the Boston Celtics since I was about six years old. I like the young core that the team has right now, and if Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were the biggest stars on the team, then I would be very comfortable with Brad Stevens being the coach for a long time. But Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been different this season than they were last season when the Celtics came within a game of the NBA Finals. They have the confidence that comes with being 20 and 21-years-old respectively and coming off of a season where they lead their team on a great run through the playoffs.
Now let’s add another wrinkle to the equation. Kyrie Irving is healthy this year as the NBA Playoffs begin. Gordon Hayward is healthy too. Those were the guys that were brought to Boston to be the leaders. Tatum and Brown are supposed to take a backseat to them and watch and learn as the veterans lead the way. That hasn’t always happened this season, which is why Marcus Morris referred to the Celtics locker room as a “toxic situation.”
It is a situation that Stevens may not be cut out to handle. I mean he came to the NBA from the college ranks, and not even a marquee college program. Before he was in Boston, Brad Stevens was coaching a Butler team that was still in the Horizon League and over-achieving its way to back-to-back national championship game appearances. The first Celtics team he coached had just jettisoned all of its stars. Before Kyrie came to town, the biggest name Brad Stevens coached in Boston was Isaiah Thomas.
Brad Stevens knows how to get the most out of guys whose “most” has been doubted by so many others. He may not be the right guy to manage a roster of star egos though. That’s why I wouldn’t be surprised if a quick playoff exit leads to a coaching search in Boston.
In producer terms, Stevens would be a guy that commands the respect of younger, unestablished talent. When the bar is low, he could guide a show and make it sound better. He may not have much success trying to get superstars like Mike Francesa or Ken Carmen to correct what he sees as mistakes.
Miami’s Erik Spoelstra is better equipped to handle the roster turnover that happens in the NBA. He’s proven that he can achieve at the highest level and command the respect of the game’s biggest names. He has also proven that he knows how to get through to young guys being pushed into bigger roles. Sports radio producers should pay attention to his example.
Spoelstra didn’t back down in the early days of the Big Three’s run with the Heat. When Dwayne Wade shoulder bumped him on the sideline and rumors swirled that LeBron wanted Pat Riley to take over as head coach, Spo pushed back. He made it clear that those three were stars and would be the leaders on the floor, but he was going to call the plays. He wasn’t heavy-handed. He was willing to let the stars do the things that made them stars, but he wasn’t going to be pushed around and ignored either.
When LeBron and D-Wade both went north and health problems prevented Chris Bosh from returning, Spoelstra and the Heat were left with an inexperienced roster. He had to be more hands-on and rule with less flexibility. The Heat weren’t a championship team anymore, but he didn’t let them turn into a cellar dweller.
A good producer recognizes a host’s quirks and how to manage a host’s mood and expectations. I’ll continue last week’s theme by reiterating that there is so much more to a producer’s job than just pushing buttons and potting mics up or down. If you want your hosts and bosses to know that, then you need to be prepared to be judged on your performance in every aspect of the job. If you’re a producer, you have to be flexible. You won’t get the best results if you approach every person and problem the same way.
If your show utilizes audio perfectly and always has a killer guest list, that is great. If your host isn’t better now than he or she was the day you took over, you have only done half of your job as a producer.