Writing good for TV.

I marvel at Keith Olbermann. I don’t doubt for a minute he’s a real jerk, but boy, no one can top him in Bush hatin’. Although that’s not why I listen to his rants, or commentaries, or whatever he calls them. It’s more of an academic exercise. Having recently written for radio, I had to relearn the rules of broadcast writing, which boil down to:

1) Write something.
2) Go through and replace all “ands” and “buts” with periods.
3) Go back through and replace a few ands and buts, but with extreme judiciousness.

The problem, if you’re a clause-y writer like me, is you write sentences that are too long, forget to breathe at the commas and end up gasping. Plus, you don’t want to sound too writerly; conversational is always better. But here’s the thing: Olbermann is even clause-ier than me. How does he get away with it? Here’s a sentence from the Special Comment below:

From springs spent trying to link Saddam Hussein to 9/11, to summers of cynically manipulated intelligence, through autumns of false patriotism to winters of war, we have had more than four years of every cheap trick and every degree of calculated cynicism, from an administration filled with Three-Card Monte players.

It takes him 17 seconds to read that single sentence. He takes a few breaths in there, but no deep ones. The guy must run marathons or something. Anyway, here’s the whole thing. Not recommended for the easily excited, but it has a great last line.

Posted at 12:06 pm in Media |

11 responses to “Writing good for TV.”

  1. LA mary said on March 1, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    I figure he’s a real jerk in person as well, but don’t you just love that sentence? Jeeez.Three card monte players. Perfect.

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  2. cce said on March 1, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    “All hat and no cattle” …I love that.
    Gotta admit, listening to this was exhausting. Now I need a nap.

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  3. MarkH said on March 1, 2007 at 1:00 pm

    I was an ESPN Keith Olbermann fan, but definitley not an MSNBC KO fan. I have no problem with his editorial stances, except that he maintains he is delivering news, not opinion, and such superiority over his nemesis, Bill O’Reilly. Sorry, equal jerk factors there, folks. The right claims O’Reilly (in most cases), the left, Olbermann. OK; otherwise no difference, IMHO.

    Did you see the CBS Sunday Morning puff piece Susan Spencer did on Keith last Sunday? It’s probably on-line at CBS.com. By contrast, he made O’Reilly seem downright humble at times during Mike Wallace’s 60 Minutes O’Reilly profile that evening.

    Worst part: they start talking politics in general, and Olbermann panderingly blurts out that he “has some conservative positions that might surprise people”.

    CUE SUSAN! “Oh, really? Name one.”

    Do you think she actually followed up with that? No, she completely let it pass, God knows why.

    Oddly as well, he relates how at ESPN, they only talked about sports on the air around there. “When are going to talk about something else here?!”, he pleaded.


    Glad you moved, Keith.

    Regardless of what you think of him politically, if you suspect he is a jerk, the segment will only reinforce the notion.

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  4. Ricardo said on March 1, 2007 at 11:27 pm

    For me, Keith started out as the sports guy out here in LA on KNBC, channel 4. Connie Chung was the anchor. I always thought he had a great sense of humor on camera. He seemed like a guy I would have a beer with, but I’m sure that “his people” wouldn’t let me. He must have struck a nerve with some folks, he has the fastest growing audience on all of cable news shows.

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  5. czucky Dimes said on March 2, 2007 at 1:51 am

    Olbermann a jerk? Who the hell cares? He is the only talking head I have seen yet with the cojones to have gone after Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Feith, et al directly and explicitly in clear, easy-to-understand-free-of-code English sentences. My reaction the first time I heard the first of these commentaries/rants was “It’s about goddam time.” BTW, how W managed to get seemingly honest and rational people like Colin Powell and Ms. Rice to whore for him is baffling to me.

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  6. michaelj said on March 2, 2007 at 10:50 am

    Here’s the deal. Every single word he says about W is true. Information wasn’t mistaken or mismanaged, these guys just lied their asses off. Do Americans seriously not understand that the Project for New American Centurions tried to talk Clinton into this misadventure in 1998? The problem seems to be that this is an apparently motiveless crime. Maybe they thought it was about the oil, but they’ve FUBARED that infrastructure along with everything else. So where does that leave us? Halliburton/KBR etc. profiteering? Can any human enterprise actually be that vile and that venal?

    My favorite thing in all of this is that the PNAC didn’t ask W to join up, they asked Jeb. But then he got caught stealing Florida.

    And Dimes, Powell was involved in the coverup of My Lai, and Condi is the work-wife. W supposedly talked Congress into this mess. If anybody would take the time to read the legislation, it required the administration to come back with proof before invading Iraq. I don’t think that happened.

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  7. nancy said on March 2, 2007 at 11:56 am

    You’re absolutely right, Michael, and yes you too, Chucky. Olbermann is only speaking the truth. And I, too, don’t care if he’s a jerk. I only know that jerkitude is one of those things people respond to on a gut level, and too many tend to reject everything the jerk has to say. (Look at how many people vote for the candidate they’d rather have a beer with, which makes up for being ignorant about what they actually stand for, evidently.)

    I prefer Olbermann’s smarty-pants delivery as entertainment, but what he has to say is important. To be sure, though, I don’t know if changing the pitch would be effective at this point. As you say, it’s so FUBAR there’s a certain hysteria in the air.

    Early, early on in the war I knew someone who told me he had severed friendships — actually sent out letters/e-mails saying, “we’re not friends anymore” — over this war. The friends were supporters, he wasn’t, and he just wanted them to know he’d no longer be taking their calls. At the time I thought he was overreacting. I don’t anymore.

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  8. ashley said on March 2, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    You don’t get it. All of you. It’s a priority that we rebuild New Orleans Iraq.

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  9. ashley said on March 2, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Uh…the New Orleans was supposed to be strikethroughed…

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  10. Eric Zorn said on March 2, 2007 at 3:45 pm

    Transcript of this is here, http://www.schadenfreude.net/2007/02/you_cant_cherrypick_life.php#more

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  11. MarkH said on March 5, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    “…all hat and no cattle…”. Heh. texas politicians (who probably coined it) quit using that ages ago; even Dan Rather removed it from his verbal bag of tricks.

    It doesn’t take cojones, czucky, just low ratings. MSNBC has been in the popularity sub-basement for years. Olbermann’s a loudmouth who likes to hear himself, and while he may have found an outlet for his rants anywhere, they were desperate for viewers. What’s easier than letting a loose cannon loose when you have nothing to lose? Especially when most of the country is fed up with Iraq anyway. MSNBC doesn’t care what he says (nothing could be as bad as Michael Savidge). No balls needed there. And what do you know? His ratings have steadily climbed for 6 months or so, so…it worked. Highest rated show on the network. All is well. Except for Chris Matthews, whom I suspect may be a tad resentful. He was paired with Keith during the Ford funeral and clearly didn’t like it.

    Thanks to Eric’s post of the transcript in question, I was able to get through what Olbermann said without watching/listening/suffering. Compelling stuff (easy to do with Rice in my book; but that’s for another post) up untill 2/3rds of the way through when his argument loses steam. But that’s what happens when being in love with what you say makes you keep going too long. When there’s nothing more to be said, he’ll still be saying it.

    And michael, I have the legislation right in front of me and have read through it twice, now. It says nothing about providing proof before invading. However, it DOES say that Bush has to respond to them every 60 days, once it started, with an update of how action is progressing and what he has found there. Make of that what you will. Those reports would make interesting reading, no?

    BTW, enlightening stuff I found on the web re: Powell and My Lai. His hands do appear to be dismayingly dirty. And, if Clinton didn’t allow himself to be talked into this kind of action in Iraq, he sure did a lot of sabre rattling and made some compelling arguements for action when the inspectors were thrown out in 1998. Monica as war-preventer? Nah…

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