Three Ways To Keep Getting Booked On Network TV

Recently, I’ve seen numerous reports about the aggressive booking practices employed by the major television news networks. The biggest complaints? That the networks were canceling guests at the last minute and banning them from appearing on competing networks.

As an example, one formerly regular guest on CNBC complained to Politico, “If they see you on a competing channel they won’t invite you back for a week or so… They’ll call and ask if you’ve been on another network. If you say, ‘Yes,’ then they won’t invite you. If you say, ‘No,’ they’ll book you and ask you to hold a time. But then they might cancel the booking at the last minute. I don’t know of any other channel that does this.”

Frankly, I wasn’t surprised. You shouldn’t be either.

CNBC is not the only network with competitive booking practices. The network morning shows are especially notorious for their competitive nature, with bookers going to great lengths to get exclusive interviews with top guests. Cable shows aren’t much different. When I worked in cable, it was standard practice to ask a guest not to appear on a competing network before coming on a show. News is a cutthroat business and no network, cable or otherwise, wants to be seen as recycling guests.

Another accusation, that CNBC has cancelled guests at the last minute, is also not exclusive to the financial network. I understand that it’s inconvenient to be cancelled, and trust me; most bookers don’t delight in making that call. Still, news, by definition, is unpredictable. Broadcasting plans sometimes have to change on a moment’s notice because of breaking stories. More often than not, that’s unfortunately when guests get cancelled at the last minute.

So what, as a potential television guest, should you take from these stories?

  1. Don’t “book around”: For most shows, if you book an appearance, don’t make plans for another appearance on a competing network before your scheduled hit time. If another opportunity comes up and you feel you must try to accommodate it, call the booker to discuss the situation. Understand that you may be cancelled, but that outcome is better than ruining your relationship with the booker who sees you on another network before you’re scheduled to appear on his or her show. (Note: This rule does not apply to promotional tours, like book or movie releases.)
  2. Be flexible: You may get cancelled at the last minute, or your hit time may be moved. Try not to get frustrated. Accept it as a reality of the news business. Bookers will appreciate your understanding and be more likely to call you again.
  3. Recognize how “big of a deal” you are: In the Will Ferrell movie “Anchorman,” Ron Burgundy famously says, “I don’t know how to put this, but, I’m kind of a big deal.” You’ll often see some guests, like administration officials, making the rounds on the network or cable news shows. Bookers accept this because the possibility of not having a major newsmaker on their show outweighs sharing him or her with another network. That said, most of us aren’t that high profile–so the rules above apply.

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