(Fun) Fieldwork Research Summary

I did most of my field research at the Southcenter Mall in Tukwila on Sunday Morning.  The mall wasn’t too busy and I was pretty nervous about approaching people but I decided that I’d give chocolate to those willing to be interviewed because it was Valentine’s Day.  I decided that I wanted to try and vary my ten interviewees based on  occupations and in the end I was able to interview a diverse group of people with varying ethnicities and the age range was between 15-47 but most of them in their 20’s.

First, I approached a security guard and he was really nice so he made me less nervous about asking other people and then I walked around the food court and looked for people who were sitting by themselves.  Many responses I got from people were “I’m not from here” and even though I said it didn’t matter, I got the hint that that was their nice way of saying “don’t bother me.”  Then I went inside a couple of stores and interviewed some people who were working including a barista, a sales associate, and a graphic designer.  I also interviewed three high school girls sitting by the yogurt stand because I thought it would be interesting information to see what their view was about the work life and what they expect since they don’t have as much experience with work or higher education.

Then I thought about my own circle of family and friends and their line of work and interviewed my cousin who is a captain in the U.S. Army, my friend who is a finance manager at digital media company, my roommate’s boyfriend who designs for a rain boot company, and my mom’s coworker who is a childcare provider.  I found the research that I did very intriguing.  I had a great time interviewing these people and it wasn’t as scary as I thought!

Our questions were thought provoking and I added one more question for a little more feedback about the premise of our show idea.

Trends that stuck out:

  • There was a good split between who thought that reality TV was attracting/distracting.
  • There was a good split between who thought a college education was important/not important.
  • There was a good split on whether or not the economic situation was affecting their work and life.
  • A key common skill that was needed in many of the occupations was good communication.
  • Majority of the interviewees prefer to watch TV at night
  • Majority weren’t quite sure of what they considered an entry-level job was.
  • Majority has earned a Bachelors degree.
  • Many were interested in a show that would show progression into a job after college, how an internship could lead to a job, the struggles, how long it takes to get a stable job, and the interview process.

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Jamie Hammond-born determined & stays that way.

Jamie Hammond is an Emmy-award winning producer who has been in the entertainment business for 35 years.  Upon graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she earned a degree in finance and accounting.  Through networking in the production accounting realm, she shifted her focus when client Danny Thomas introduced and taught her about being a producer.  Through this experience she began working in national broadcast and worked on mini-series; she even met David Letterman when he was attempting a morning talk show. The LA atmosphere wasn’t fitting for Hammond so she decided to move to Seattle.

Courtesy of ecb.org

In Seattle, her career in the television production industry kicked off when she was approached to work on the educational show Bill Nye the Science Guy. This was the first television series created for commercial syndication and public TV.  Bill Nye the Science Guy has been successful on air and is shown in many science classrooms.  Through this experience, Hammond learned that she must always be on top of technology and ideas.  The establishment of this series was during a time when TV shows didn’t have websites yet so Hammond and her team creatively made the website, blog, electronic newsletter, curriculum, and teacher sources since it was a show for children.

A key element that Hammond and other guest speakers have emphasized is to use entertainment to hold the audience and that a story telling component is the foundation of everything.  In 2003, the concept for another hit educational series Biz Kid$ was in the works.  Hammond and her peers wanted to have an entrepreneur show about real stories and real kids doing cool things and they definitely wanted comedy in the show because that was important in education. At one meeting, the concept suddenly came together and they began working on format.

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Her team worked on making a media kit.  Hammond’s number one advice that she shared was “do not invest your life savings.  Just invest a little start up money, try to take other’s money so that you’re not completely vulnerable, just in case.”  With that, she approached financial services, banks, investment companies, and office supply companies to find funding for Biz Kid$. These types of companies helped to support the show’s mission of “inspiring kids to find their passion and incorporate in life” which can create a stronger bond and insurance for keeping the show.  When you have support, you can speak from the heart when trying to get money.

A business plan is vital.  When dealing with money, Hammond says you have to go along with their timeline and have a realistic budget.  Research and documentation is also important to have for support. It took a year to get $2.6 million for the first thirteen episodes.  The hard work and time it took to make the show was recognized in its first season when it won an Emmy award.

During the production stages of this Emmy award winning show, there were several factors and steps that were taken in order to complete the puzzle.  Hammond and her team had to develop a look and feel for the show, identify the characters for the series, and decided that they didn’t want a host. These are important tactics that guest speakers have reiterated when creating a show concept.

With these elements in mind, they did castings in Seattle in search of a core group of kids for the show.  Hammond reflects on the challenges of finding children in Seattle because most haven’t had on-camera experience and there wasn’t a good agency for children. Thinking outside the box, Hammond checked out high schools and local theaters to watch plays and took note of who stuck out.  She claims that what you invest in will have its awards and that’s exactly how she felt as she watched the chosen cast grow as artists.

Hammond’s success working on two Emmy award-winning shows reveals her passion for her work which was definitely a treat and very valuable to our class. There are a number of things that we can take away from her presentation.  She emphasizes that “you have to do what it takes by earning your chops, paying your dues and experiencing all the jobs and observing because you get a feel for what’s good and what needs to be changed.”

She also gave us important advice about accessing the audience and finding ways to market to them.  She advises us to identify the project and how you’re going to take it to the market and what market it is by doing research on downloads, cable distribution, products, etc.  To find out if an idea is interesting she said to see what resonates within your own friends, do focus groups, fill out questionnaires, and have people write, and to listen and be honest with yourself because if no one or you care, then the world won’t.

One trait that that shines through Hammond is her determination, she said it herself, “I was born determined and I’ve stayed that way.”

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Research: Retail Jobs

Introducing the GZ MACS!  My group finally thought of name!  But anyways,

Without giving away our group idea or at least too much of what we’ve brainstormed, I was assigned to look up articles pertaining to retail jobs.  At first I wasn’t finding anything relevant to what I wanted to find, but luckily, I was able to refine my search and got better results.  Many of the articles were about the decline in retail sales and store closures due to the economy.  I was looking for articles that share scenarios that we may be able to use for show content, interesting or bizarre occurrences happens within retail.

One article I found interesting that I could relate to because I’ve had friends who have told me about a similar experience is You won’t get a look-in if your’re not good-looking; Clothes Chain’s hiring…; Store’s Sniffy Job Ad Sparks Outrage. This article is about how clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch hire based off looks.  This can help give us insight for what we can include for our “interview process” which is something I won’t give too much detail on.

Another article I found was Business booming for thrift stores; Customers are up, donations are down at resale shopping sites across the USA. This article focuses on the how thrift stores are surpassing low priced stores such as Wal-mart and surpassing their sales which is an interesting thing to note because long-time retailers can support the trend.

One last article that pertains to our show idea is Storing Up Experience which focuses on a young woman who moved to Texas and how she applied her retail experience to get a manager position for Howards Storage World organization solutions company.  We can interview people in the retail world and ask about how long they’ve been in the business and where they hope to go with it.  Is it just a side job?  Are they going for corporate?

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Matt Chan of Screaming Flea Productions

Matt Chan is the president of the Screaming Flea productions, which is one of the top programming producers of non-fiction in the country.   He began developing his passion for the production at the University of Oregon and continued working within the TV industry in California and Washington.  Today he owns Screaming Flea and its success shines through with its tripling growth and size along with the shows it created and produced for over sixteen networks worldwide.

Chan is a creative thinker and always works outside of the box.  He considers various conditions when creating a unique pitch appropriate for the specific network.  He looks at TV as a product and tries to understand who the end is user is and find out what they need.  By talking with the networks he looks at what they currently have and what they are doing.  He analyzes the trends and which shows have been working.   A trick to narrowing down a target audience is looking at the commercials that are being viewed.  The bottom line is that, he must produce a show that people are going to want to see a show because it is entertaining (not simply because it’s good for them).

A show that him and his team successfully pitched was A&E series Hoarders.  This show documents and reveals an unhealthy living lifestyle that millions of Americans live that many people are unaware of.  They are stuck in a world where every little thing, big or small, has some kind of sentiment and cannot be thrown away.  The show provides therapy to help bring these hoarders back into a healthier reality of life without all the extra baggage.

When putting a pitch together, it is important to do some research about the network: find out its philosophies, what shows it has now and at what time, and which shows are successful.  Chan also mentions that a good rule of thumb is to find a show that can be a successful fiction show and to find what is equal to our reality of the concept.  Audiences want reality and drama and with that formula they want a beginning, middle, end, and climax. A show’s success can be felt through its tension and the drama it reveals.  People like cliffhangers so they can predict what’s going to happen next.  Although this seems too simple and common for programs on television today, a good thing to keep in mind is that we also must be unique and give the viewers access to something that no other show has.

My group and I picked out the top six shows that we felt were our biggest competitors in the work and life program genre.  Our next step is to see what these shows have in common and why it works and really tie it together to create our own formula for our show’s concept.  I feel that after every guest we have, our creative juices are flowing out control.  It almost seems too overwhelming but with each step we make and with all the advice we hear and take, it becomes more exciting when it comes to putting all the pieces together.

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Tube of Plenty

Tube of Plenty by Erik Barnouw highlights the dramatic moments of television and radio broadcasting which are important for understanding the evolution of an invention that has changed the ways of mass communication.  Radio and television have been taken for granted and are simply seen as mediums through which entertainment (and news) is delivered.

The advancements of television literally opened new channels for business marketing and advertising.  In the Plastic Years chapter, the Crime Automated section gave me a better look at understanding the concept of sponsorship. At first, I related it back to product placement but did some quick research to learn the difference between the two advertising concepts.

Camel cigarettes sponsored a high rating live broadcasting show Man Against Crime in 1949.  This sponsorship affected the writing and direction of the show due to special requests made by the company when concerning smoking.  There are a number of rules and guidelines that Camel made that are interesting to note.  There were rules about which scenes and who could be associated with smoking, the act of smoking itself had to be graceful and never puffed nervously (coughs were also forbidden in an episode), and fires and doctors couldn’t be mentioned in the scenes because viewers could be reminded of the negative aspects of smoking. As for the plot, writers had to include a murder scene (a doctor never reported a death in the show) and violent scenes that were preferred to occur earlier in the episode. Along with that, the plot had to include an attractive woman and a romance (or the possibility of one) because it was essential as violence in each episode (Barnow, 132-133).  These minor details about characters and the direction of the show had a larger influence on the relationship between the sponsor and show than I had known.

Another connection I made involving business was in the Freeze section that covered “a very special period for television.”  Between 1948-52, television licenses were called to a sudden halt and this continued through the Korean War.  During this freeze, New York and Los Angeles were major players with seven stations while other major cities only had one station or no television at all.  Fortunate cities were dubbed television cities and “provided priceless opportunity for testing and observing.”

Key outcomes recognized within television cities were the economic decline and changes of habit.  There was a drop in movie and sporting event attendance.  A variety show called Your Show of Shows left restaurants and nightclubs empty due to viewers rushing to their television sets.  Events like these posed a problem in the early stages of television but today viewers can watch their shows any time with plentiful options such as watching online, “DVR-ing” it, and/or choosing On Demand if the program is available.  There is also the option of purchasing the season on DVD.  These alternatives for the many people who may not have time to catch their favorite shows during their allotted time created problems for advertisers.  Consumers had the power to forward through commercials or not even catch a glimpse of the commercial at all.  As a result, advertisers have been brainstorming new ideas for implementing their products.

Television has been in the stronghold for being the number one tool for advertising due to its ability to make a product visible to a massive audience in a short time.  It is seen within Tube of Plenty the development of the relationship between television and advertising and how it is evolved into its present state.  Before it was just radio and tele

vision, now there are other opportunities for watching shows and recently the boom of social networking sites which took advertising to a whole new level.  Television is still effective but the history of how it became the way it is today is definitely important acknowledge.

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TV Show Reviews

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As a student in the University of Washington we are privileged to have what seems to be an endless assortment of resources in our hands (that are often taken for granted).  Using the library database, I found three sources regarding the show Dirty Jobs, which is a reality document series on the Discovery channel.  Hosted by Mike Rowe, the show recognizes the filthiest jobs in our society that many would not dream of having, well even consider having.  Rowe does not only take his viewers behind the scenes of these unpleasant occupations, he participates in them as well.  He is a good-natured, humorous man and in the end, viewers feel a sense of gratification and appreciation that there is someone out there other than them filling in those boots.

All three of the reviews I found regarding Dirty Jobs, acknowledge the fact that this show certainly fulfills the job of recognizing jobs that are often ignored.  It is a new angle and all agree that Mike Rowe does well with bringing insight to the viewers and the occupations by getting down and dirty.  They tend to make fun of his humor but it’s just right for the show.  His attitude doesn’t poke fun at the people who take these positions to earn an honest living.  It brings normality to these bizarre jobs by not bringing them down.  The realness of the show is what really sets it apart from similar shows such as The Simple Life, which was a show where Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie struggled and mocked simple jobs. With Rowe actually performing these tasks correctly himself, he recognizes that these jobs aren’t easy and require special skill and training. Dirty Jobs introduces society to jobs that are taken for granted and bring them to light.

Among the three reviews found, one of them, from the newspaper Newday, had the most insight in his review about Dirty Jobs.  The author was able to compare it to similar shows and really point out what made it different compared to other reality TV shows out there.  Not only does it entertain, but also it connects the viewers because a show about work coming from a different perspective.  “Discovery deserves a big huzzah for doing something television, rarely does- showing us how some important, taken-for-granted work gets accomplished.”

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Ethan Morris- Senior Producer KCTS 9

Ethan Morris

Ethan Morris is the senior producer of local Seattle station KCTS 9 of PBS.  Within his fifteen years of work in broadcast and print media, he earned three Emmy Awards and the National Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Newscast.  Before joining the KCTS team, he was senior producer at another local station KOMO-TV.  Morris’ experience and creative mind lead him to successfully develop and launch KCTS 9 programs Connects, Conversations and About the Money.

Morris takes various steps when brainstorming ideas for merging together the needs of the station with show content that will attract viewers. Some of the steps he took to achieve his productions include analyzing market studies, organizing focus groups, and visiting financial institutions.  Market studies allowed him to recognize the variety of shows that covered money and to explore segments from local radio stations, newspapers, and news stations to see what news people were already getting.  Focus groups with no one over the age of 45 were arranged to get a consensus of what topics were of concern.  Approaching financial institutions helped bring issues that were not covered in the main media about finance.

With all this research, Morris was able to produce About the Money. Simple topics about opening a bank account, handling retirement, cooking on a budget, were among the first episodes of the show.  The show’s success was measured through continued sponsorship and funding for other seasons.

The station had some internal needs for show production and as senior producer Morris developed Conversations, which was a series that showcased interviews of local and national personalities.  A challenge that he faced was accommodating major guests while still having news.  The show was aired on Fridays but any news presented would’ve been considered old news.  As a result, the brains behind the show decided that they would invest on having a 30-minute interview show focusing just on the guest without having outside footage and arranged in an intimate setting with the camera focused on the eyes which was appropriate for the longer interviews.  To attract guests, the show used a catchy tagline as a tool for persuading them to go on their show.

After hearing Morris’ stories there are many new considerations to make. We have to consider if we want a serious or humorous feel for our show (or both).  We need to decide if we want to have a host or narrative voice in advance before we pitch our show and if so, how will we pick one.  We need to determine if we’ll be on set or out in the field and how we want our camera flow to be.  We need to create a tagline for recruiting potential guests.  We should also contemplate the amount of money and episodes that can be produced.

It was a great opportunity to have Ethan Morris as a guest especially after reading the article The Affluencer because it helped me to compare and contrast the goals of commercial and non-commercial networks.  Lauren Zalaznick, an executive at NBC Universal was noted to have “polished the genre of reality TV” and I agree that “to watch Bravo is to feel like an insider.”  Reality TV is about seeing real people make decisions that we, ourselves could encounter. I feel that these are two important factors: to feel part of a community and to be able to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what you might do because you’re part of the community.

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