Media Training: Negotiating Your TV Appearance

This post is all about the process of being booked for a TV appearance –  How to handle it when a TV show rings up and wants to book you for an interview.  It’s the sort of thing that can easily happen if you’re a print journalist, businessperson, or represent an organisation.  As with most things in life, there is a right way and a knuckle-chewingly bad way to handle these conversations.  This article is designed to protect your knuckles.

It’s a long ‘un, so get your cup of tea before you start reading.

~~drums fingers, waits for cup of tea readyfication~~

Al sorted now?  Then away we go..


Once you’ve started to make media connections, the next stage in your rise to fame is that someone from a TV Company will approach you, probably by telephone.  This will most likely be a researcher, whose job it is to find guests for programmes.  Or you may be approached in the first instance by a producer – this is a more senior role than a researcher and suggests that you are slightly closer to having your appearance confirmed.

At this stage the researcher is likely to have a general chat with you about what they’re looking for and how you might fit into the programme.  The researcher will be taking note of both what you say and how you say it, so be as honest and animated as you can – whether you like it or not, you’re taking part in a mini audition.

If the researcher says “We’re looking for someone to talk about widgets”, don’t for heaven’s sake reply with “Yes, I have lots to say about widgets” and leave it at that – start to display some of your knowledge and authority.

Some potential TV guests can sound fab on paper but are terrible performers in person.  This is particularly true of writers, who may be wonderful at crafting amusing bon mots, but struggle to reply spontaneously in the format of a live, filmed interview.  So during this initial interview the researcher will be testing the water and seeing how your personality comes across when you’re put on the spot.  They may ask challenging questions to see how you react.

The researcher won’t be recording what you say.  Still, take care not to say anything you don’t really mean or to contradict yourself later on.  The researcher will use any notes they take whilst talking to you to write up briefing notes for the presenter who will actually be doing your interview.

Many researchers will later double check that they’ve correctly understood what you’ve said, but some inexperienced ones may not and mixed messages can get through.  This is why you may later find yourself being introduced as Joe Bloggs, all the way from Pennsylvania when you’ve really just come from Peterborough.

You will very likely be asked what previous media experience you have, so do be honest.  It’s good to have a bit of experience but don’t worry if you don’t – this will simply send the researcher a message that you may need more briefing when it comes to taking part in the programme.  It doesn’t matter if you have no experience if you sound sufficiently keen to take part.  TV has an appetite for new faces so lack of experience is not a problem.

This preliminary chat is only the first stage – if the researcher wants to take it further they will tell you when and where the recording is taking place in order to check your availability.  They will then most likely go and confer with a more senior person – probably the producer.

The producer may also ring you to have a similar chat – again treat this as a kind of mini-audition and a sign that you are still in the running (don’t rush out and buy a new suit just yet, though no harm in checking that the store has got one in your size).

The researchers and producers are very likely talking to many potential guests around the time they are talking to you.  No matter how enthusiastic they sound, your appearance is not confirmed until your travel arrangements have been sorted – and sometimes not even then.

Once they get to the stage of arranging what time the car will pick you up, treat it as a provisional arrangement.  Often guests for TV shows are not finalised until very close to recording time so you may not know if your interview is going ahead until quite late in the day.  Do as much as you can to accommodate the arrangements if appearing on TV is important to you, even if this means cancelling other plans.  If they want you to appear but you can’t make it for whatever reason, there will always be another chance, though you might have to wait a long time for it.

TV programmes do prepare many items which end up getting dropped at the last minute (and consequently guests get cancelled).  Don’t take it personally if this happens to you.  It can be for all sorts of reasons – maybe the news agenda has shifted and something else needs to be featured instead.  Maybe the presenter has had a temper tantrum and demanded that the programme be changed.  Maybe the programme couldn’t get the film footage it wanted to go with your slot.

Especially in live TV, anything can and does happen at the last moment.  Events which have happened to me which have changed the intended content of a programme include:
• Guests turning up drunk and/or incoherent
• Locations or props for filming not being available
• Guests not arriving due to traffic problems
• A big news story breaking
Do as much as you can to make sure the interview happens, but accept that sometimes it won’t happen due to events outside your control.

And when you do get booked for your big interview, don’t forget to read this article so you can negotiate the best fee for your slot.


For more information about specialist media career coaching, take a look at my media coaching site here.