TV news is already a crowded market, so when launching a new channel, how do you make shows which are distinctive and find an audience, and where is that audience, anyway?
In the third episode of season three of the Making the Media Podcast, host Craig Wilson is joined by Erron Gordon, executive director of NewsUK Broadcast, the company behind TalkTV, one of the UK’s newest news channels.
Listen to Hear:
- Why news should never be boring
- How to create distinctive news content for any platform
- The creative challenge of launching a new news channel
Our Guest This Episode
Erron is the executive director of NewsUK Broadcasting and is head of studios and creative for TalkTV and Piers Morgan Uncensored. He was the launch and former series director of Good Morning Britain and Peston for ITV. Erron is a Patron of The National Student Television Awards.
At the forefront of everything that I do and that we do is thinking that this is not just a television program. You know, how will this look if it was clipped up on TikTok or as a tweet? That's all really important, as well.
Erron Gordon, executive director, News UK
Mentioned in This Episode
Craig Wilson: Hi, and welcome to the Making the Media podcast. I'm your host for the show, Craig Wilson, and it's great to have you join us. In this edition of the podcast, we're going to focus a bit more on studio workflows with the executive director of the UK-based news channel TalkTV, Erron Gordon.
TalkTV only launched a few months ago with the headline show presented by the broadcaster and journalist, Piers Morgan. Erron was heavily involved in the launch and directs Piers’ evening show. Erron has an extensive background in television and confesses to being a TV nerd, fascinated by the way it works and how it looks. In his career, he's seen technology evolve to change the way shows are produced and presented, and how the audience interacts, regardless of the platform on which they are watching. So, let's hear from him now, and I began by asking him to outline what his current role entails.
Erron Gordon: So, initially I was brought in to help launch this new news and views channel on behalf of News UK, and that was, you know, creating the look for the channel that, you know, the audio, the sound for the channel, the on-screen graphics, and the set design. And a lot of my efforts went into launching Piers Morgan Uncensored, which is the sort of flagship program on the channel, but it also is a global program, it’s broadcast on Fox’s successful streaming service, Fox Nation, in the United States, and it's also broadcast on Sky News Australia, as well.
So yeah, it was busy time, but a lot of things to juggle. But nowadays it's more day-to-day directing, so I direct Piers Morgan’s show every weeknight, and as well as that, we're kind of managing our studio teams, you know, making sure that we're running because we've run a quite a number of studios and we've got, you know, we've got several directors and vision mixers and it's quite a big team, actually, because you know, we've got two studios at London Bridge, and then the studio here at Ealing Broadcast Centre as well, which is the timeline facility.
CW: So Erron, how did you get into directing to start with?
EG: I was a floor manager at ITN many years ago and the role, the actual title of the role was Genius Studio Producer, and that was because as well as floor managing the main news bulletins on Channel 5 news, you would also TD, so you would technical direct, vision mix direct the news updates, the 5 News updates. So I started, believe it or not, sort of directing, but not in the true sense. It was running a minute-and-a-half news bulletin at like the age of sort of 18 because 18, 19.
So that was my kind of—and then I got a shot at directing the Saturday morning breakfast show that Channel 5 used to do 5 News Early. Which was fun, you know, it was a good—and I had no idea what I was doing, you know, I really didn't, you know, and it was an amazing opportunity and it was sort of, that was my first kind of foot in the door of directing. But then I went into vision mixing. I've got a job at Sky News, vision mixed there, and then became a vision mixer at GMTV. Back in what, 2001, I think. I was there for about three years, vision mixing TV, then went back to Sky when they got the 5 News contract to make the news bulletins for Channel 5. And I was vision mixing there and then once again started directing the kind of the weekend programs and the Evening News bulletins and things like that. And then I became a kind of fully fledged director on Sky News, I think 2007 I think it was, and that was when I started directing full time.
And then from then moved back to GMTV to direct that and then was at ITV from that period onwards, from sort of 2008 to about this time last year.
CW: I think it's really fascinating how people’s careers develop and, you know, careers change. I'm sure there's a lot of people I speak to who could never have really imagined they'd be in the kind of position they're in now, you know, when they look back at where they began.
EG: Yeah and but I mean I think that's the really exciting thing about television and the industry. You know, I love this industry. I think it's a really great place. Great. You know, I'm really fortunate to be doing a job that I absolutely love, and you know, I've had some amazing opportunities, you know, and I'm coming up to 25 years in television next month, and you know, I started when I was 16 and I was given an amazing opportunity by Chris Shaw at ITN, who was the editor of 5 News back then, and, you know, I was just a weekend runner. I was, you know, tea boy, photocopying scripts, that sort of thing. But a lot of the people that I've worked with in those early days are now really senior people, you know. So, you know, the people that were kind of news editors and program editors back then are now industry leaders. So, I've just been really lucky.
And I think the other exciting thing when I joined the industry to where it is now is how technology has changed and, you know, I think when we, when I was at 5 News at ITN in the late 90s, it was, you know, we didn't have a lot of, you know, it wasn't… there weren't… there weren't automated control rooms, there weren't, you know, robotic cameras. I'm sure they existed elsewhere perhaps, but they didn't there. And that enabled me to kind of pick up more skills. So, you know, I was just as annoying 16 year old that was just saying, “Oh, can I do that? Can I do that?” And I ended up, you know, ended up doing really random things like writing the weather bulletin. And things like that, it was just, you know, odd things like that, you know. So I didn't really know what I wanted to do back then. I used to work on the news desk and do assignments and things like that. But all of that has helped because I understand more now in the position I'm in, you know, it's quite handy to have had a sort of dip my toe into all those different fields, different areas of the industry, because I kind of have a bit more of a broader understanding of it.
CW: It's definitely about taking the opportunities that come along and I guess are placed in front of you. So let's maybe talk about launching the show and launching the channel. You know, it was a big thing just a few months ago. So really what I'm interested in is, you know, what happens when someone approaches you and says, you know, “We've got this position, want you to do it. We want you to launch this show. It's a big name, obviously, with Piers Morgan.” So really, where do you start with something like that?
EG: Yeah, well, I mean, interestingly, it was Piers himself that reached out and Piers and I worked really closely together at Good Morning Britain, um, and you know, we worked there for a number of years until he left, which I'm sure everyone was aware of or is aware of. And, you know, I was really happy at Good Morning Britain, really enjoyed my time at ITV. But one of the things that was that was probably getting to me was after 13 years was probably the 2:00 o'clock in the morning alarm call. So when Piers reached out and said, you know, “I'm launching a new show, it's going to be very exciting, you know, new opportunity, you know, it's not going to be easy because we were building from the ground up, but I'd really like you to get involved, and not just that, you know, I want you to kind of be involved with the channel.” And you know, it sounded like a really exciting opportunity, you know, and it's a huge risk leaving the kind of security of a job and a role at ITV, you know, the biggest commercial broadcaster, you know, making flagship morning show for ITV for a huge network, and you're kind of stepping into a world that is, you know, it's very different. And you're having to build your team and build and create new looks and. Because I'm this kind of huge TV nerd, like, I literally get my kicks by watching, you know, other news programs, I mean it's really sad, but I enjoy it, so whatever, you know. I'll spend an evening on YouTube watching the new look RTL or something like that—they just launched a new studio. To me I find that interesting, which you know, I probably need to get out more, but actually, that's what I think makes me good at my job is that I kind of look at all those things and it creates new ideas, things like that, so.
Yeah, that's kind of… that helps with the challenge. But yeah, it's a big, it was a big challenge. It still is a big challenge because you know, I've only been on air for a few months. I mean, and you know, it's tough launching a new channel and finding an audience and also in this new multi—you know, we're in a multi-platform world, unless you're BBC or BBC One or ITV or one of the mainstream broadcasters, it's hard finding a new audience. So you're kind of—what our offering is and one of the things that we're very keen to do, it's mmulti-platform. If you don't watch the full hour-long show, that's fine. Actually a lot of our YouTube channel is doing great numbers for Piers’ show, and you know, all the clips that are generated from across the network get really good pick up on you know, TikTok, and things like that, and YouTube. So these kinds of platforms that are finding new audiences that just aren't watching traditional linear television.
CW: That's actually something I wanted to ask a little bit about because you know, we do talk to a lot of people on the podcast about, you know, multi-platform distribution, the rise of TikTok and Instagram and other ways that news is distributed. But, you know, I'm still interested and I think there's still a huge appetite across all these platforms for well-produced studio programs, and I think at times people maybe ignore that and they think a little bit more that it's just about getting content out to these people.
So I'm interested in, you know, what you think about how the show is crafted and is that done really with other platforms in mind, or are you just focused on the TV show?
EG: Yeah—look, I'm a TV person. So, first and foremost, I want to make a really good looking television program and you know I think that we have achieved that here and I'm really proud of what my team and I have done. And, you know, actually we were just nominated—one of our [inaudible] music was just nominated for an award for, you know, for original sound design, and you know, so those things are really I think are hugely important.
But of course you are thinking about the other platforms and you're thinking about you know the size of the—you know one of the things that we think about is in our banners, our on-screen banners is you know the size of the text on screen. A lot of networks now kind of doing much smaller typeface and not bold, big you know it's looking a little bit more conservative and one of the things that I wanted to do here is just make a much sort of louder you know bigger arguably tabloid in some respects. Look, and I think that's because when people are watching on their mobile device, it's easier to read.
CW: So, when it comes to creating the look, you know, you mentioned earlier watching that new RTL show, you know, what are you looking at you know to try to find inspiration?
EG: Yeah I am. And I just because even if it doesn't sort of—even I don't get inspiration from it, I'm just, I mean I'll look at really old stuff as well. You know I'll go down looking at, I mean honestly it's very probably niche, this sort of random old TV clips and things that I look at, but, um, but I love it because I think it does inspire me, you know, theme music, set design, on-screen graphics. Especially whilst working on Good Morning Britain, and we when we launched Good Morning Britain, a lot of our inspiration was from the American morning shows and the same thing with Piers’ show.
Now Piers' show is very glossy. It's… people will say it's American, it's arguably, you know, very American in its design. But when people say it's American, they said that about Good Morning Britain, actually. To me it's not American, it's just well done, and I think US television news particularly does a brilliant job at making sort of news output, adding in some of those entertainment, you know, high-production values that you would see on shiny floor shows like Strictly or Britain's Got Talent, things like that. And you're pumping those into news and current affairs because just because it's news doesn't mean that it's boring. And that kind of goes way back to when I first started in 1997 at Channel 5 News, which was this really innovative news program presented by Kirsty Young. She was perched on her desk, she was walking around the newsroom and the newsroom was the studio. So if she was talking to the political editor, she'd walk to his desk and talk about politics and so I think that has always stuck with me being a sort of child of or a student of 5 News circa ‘97 is what sort of made me such a nerd today, because TV news shouldn't be boring, it should be engaging and interesting, and even more so with, you know, people making their own kind of news, you know, channels on YouTube and things like that. People are doing their own things. There's so many options these days to choose from. You've really got to stand out. And I think that what we've done with the look of TalkTV and Piers Morgan Uncensored is that, you know, it's eye-catching, it's bold, it's loud, and you know, hopefully it does stand out in a crowded market.
CW: Ultimately, of course it is really the content of the show that that is key to everything else. But you know, you talked a little about your background and an interest in technology and in news. So what kind of innovations do you think have also maybe helped articulate those stories better?
EG: I think the biggest tech innovation, you know… I love technology. I'm not an under the bonnet guy. So even when I was a vision mixer I was very much more about the look, the, the piercing it together rather than the programming and the engineering. You know, I leave that to kind of the experts because that was never my, that's never been my sort of field of expertise. But I think the biggest technological innovation that I can pinpoint off top of my head right now is live view, and I think live view has just changed how we make television programs.
Before, jacking a live up at a location took quite a lot of effort. You know, links truck and you know all that. You know so much involved in it. Now you turn up with a backpack and you're off and you get to places that you would never have got to. With that, you know, you've got that freedom to move around, which is incredible, not being tied down to one spot. So, you know when it comes to breaking news and things like that, I think that for me is one of the biggest innovations that I can think of in my time, anyway. I mean apart from what the obvious ones like moving away from—you know when I first started at ITN, we had betacam and you know and there was a, you know, we called it STACK, but essentially it’s a betacart machine, you know, but you've moved from that to digital and things you know. So you know that those are the obvious ones.
CW: One of the things about an organization like TopTV, I guess, is it's relatively small in comparison to obviously what you've done at GMB as part of ITV. Does that maybe allow you more freedom to perhaps innovate and do things quicker?
EG: Yeah it does, it does. And that's one of the really exciting things about being on in this new role coming from a bigger organization like ITV is that you know there just it is a smaller—obviously TalkTV is part of News UK, which is part of News Corp, which hugely successful. Massive organizations. We've got a great backing from all of our leaders, and you know managers across in the United States and here in London as well. But you know TalkTV particularly is a small operation but there's less red tape. So we're launching new programs at the moment and kind of as part of my role as Creative Director as well is that, you know I can say to a graphic designer “This is what I want. This is the brief. Off you go to make it happen.” And when they start presenting their work, you know, we as a team evaluate the work, we show it to executive producers, things like that. But ultimately it comes down to whether I like it, you know, it doesn't. Which is really quite, you know, unique really. But that's amazing for me as a TV nerd because I get to basically create looks, you know, I'm not, I don't design, obviously, but, you know, working with really talented people, you know, we create, you know, we cut through the kind of, you know, the red tape and just do what we want and what we think is right. I'm surrounded by people that just love television and that's what makes it so exciting.
CW: Obviously we've been through in the UK a fairly extraordinary few weeks with the death of the Queen. And that's really what I wanted to talk a little bit about, you know, being in the gallery, being in the control room when things happen, you know, clearly shows are produced, they're prepared. But of course, one of the great things about news is times change, things change, and the running order changes. So, you know, really, I think that's what makes television really exciting.
And so I'm interested in maybe you could talk a little bit about some of the experiences around handling you know the area around the Queen's death and perhaps reflecting on I guess which is probably one of the biggest stories of your career.
EG: I know, absolutely. I mean, you know, first and foremost, I prefer it when the running order is thrown out. That's my type of telly. You know, I love… that's why I really love doing news because you know you get your kind of straight laced days where you follow the running order but actually when it's thrown out the window and you're having to, you know, think, you know and I learned a lot of those skills directing Sky News, the interesting thing about the Queen's death and all of the rehearsals, you know, we used to have regular, you know, rehearsals for Operation London Bridge and ITV and before that, ITN and Sky. The difference between the Queen's death and a regular breaking story—I've covered huge breaking stories, you know, Grenfell, Brussels terror attack, you know, I wasn't on air at the time, but I was working at Sky News during 9/11, you know, I was at Channel 5 News during the July 7th terror attacks in London. But the difference between those stories and the Queen's death is those are breaking stories. You get that on air immediately, you get it, you know and you report as the information's coming in.
With the Queen, the way I was always taught it is you don't treat it as a breaking story. You get it right. You go on air once you've got the facts. So it's not about being first, it's about accuracy, it's about being right. And, you know, that's what we did and you know, we were well prepped and one of you know, again, can't quite believe we did it because we've only been on air for a few months. But on the actual evening in the gallery, I was there with Piers Morgan, it was very, you know, textbook Queen’s death announcement. So it was really, you know, I'm Piers Morgan in London, this is the announcement, fade to black, run the national anthem, fade to black again, come back to vision, repeat the announcement, and then go into an obituary VT, which is how I’d always been taught that you should break the news. And the team that I work with here, really experienced editorial team that have worked at big broadcasters, that's how they knew to do it as well.
So I'm, you know, incredibly proud of the way we handled that for a channel that has only been on air for a matter of months. And I think that's a real testament to the talent and the skills of the people that that we have here. We may be a very small startup outfit, but actually we have some real, really good and smart talented journalists and production to make it happen behind the scenes.
CW: You've mentioned that you've worked with Piers Morgan for quite a long time. I'm guessing there's probably never a dull moment?
EG: No..! No, there isn't. I mean, I first met Piers. I can't remember… I think it was the end of 2015 where he came and guest hosted Good Morning Britain for a week. And, you know, I'd never worked with him before. I didn't know him at all. And I was like, this guy is really interesting, you know, like he's, you know, he's very different, you know, bringing something very different to the table. And obviously when Piers was brought back, I can't remember the actual timeline of it, but I think it was early the following year, he was brought back to kind of anchor the show with Susanna Reid. And it was… it's been a roller coaster ever since, and actually, you know, I loved Piers and Susanna on screen together and the ensemble cast of, you know, Charlotte Hawkins and Ranveer Singh, Richard Arnold, Kate Garraway… they were an amazing team of presenters and created, I think, a brilliant morning show, really, you know, different morning show. The thing I used to love about that was it was kind of, I always thought of Good Morning Britain as kind of Sky News meets the Big Breakfast. That's what it was always for me, it needed to be different from BBC Breakfast.
But Piers was just nonstop fun. And craziness and challenging and pushing me and sometimes pushing me on air and actually name checking me if something didn't work, you know, and things like that. But we went and interviewed… he interviewed, I directed, you know, his interviews with Donald Trump, President Trump. In Davos, Switzerland, and on Air Force One. Incredible, incredible moments for me as a director, so I'm very grateful to him for all of those opportunities.
And then obviously the morning, I think it was March 2021, Piers you know, all blew up with the Meghan Markle stuff on Good Morning Britain, you know, that was a really different day to be directing. It's quite a… you know, I've never had a presenter walk off set in the middle of directing a program. And, you know, people often don't remember it, Piers actually did come back on set and presented the rest of that day's program, which turned out to be his last program. And, you know, so he left in this kind of, you know, bombastic way that is typical of Piers, and then working with him here as well, it's been a huge challenge, but it's been really exciting. Piers is so invested in what he's doing, you know. He really cares. You know, he cares for the team and you know, he really wants it to work and it's important—we want it to work, you know, it's a huge challenge for all of us and that's why we took the challenge in the first place. But yeah, he's, you know, he pushes you because he's a smart guy, you know. He's been an editor of a national newspaper, he's been huge name on American entertainment television, big CNN show, you know, he's been there, he's done that, he understands it. You know, he doesn't suffer falls, but that ultimately just makes you stronger and better at your job, I think.
CW: You're being challenged and I think responding to those challenges is one of the things that then drives you on, you know, as a, as a career person as well as something that's really interesting and stimulating that as well. So perhaps as we get towards the end of the podcast, what are you looking now for now as the next kind of, you know, innovation. What are you seeing that you think, “Yeah, this looks really good. This can perhaps help us drive things forward.”
EG: Yeah, it's good question. I mean, regretfully, I wasn't at IBC this year, but you know, I always sort of think about those events as exhibitions as a good way to sort of think, “Well what what's the next innovation in broadcasting and you know where do we take it?” And we do have to start thinking more about the nonlinear platform, you know. TV, You know, it's changing a lot and, you know, in another 10 years’ time, it will be very different to what we know, what I know, and what I was taught. And I'll become one of the old guard, you know, and I'll be the people that I first met when I first started TV. But it's important to, to keep up with the latest innovations in terms of, you know, what we're doing in studios and particularly things like on screen graphics and things like that, you know, and information, how you tie information into on-screen graphics. Um, you know, things like if you're writing a breaking news strap that goes on the television, pushing that out as a mobile phone notification and things like that, which I know some of our rivals do. Those sorts of innovations interest me because I think you've got to start thinking about the product as not just a television product. You've got to think about it, you know, on every different platform.
So, you know, off the top of my head, I can't think of a piece of equipment or something that is in mind at the moment, but I just think at the forefront of everything that I do and that we do is thinking that this is not just a television program, you know. How will this look if it was clipped up on TikTok or as a tweet, that's all really important as well. So yeah, there's no one sort of piece of equipment, I would say, but it's just thinking about the future of broadcasting.
CW: So, Erron, you spent many years in breakfast television where of course you were up very, very early. You've now moved on to maybe a few more regular hours. But you know, there is one final question I ask everyone in the podcast. So what is it, if anything, that keeps you up at night?
EG: I actually sleep really well at night, Craig, to be honest. And yeah, no, what keeps me up, I don't… I mean, nothing, really keeps me up at night. It depends what sort of period we're in. I mean, we're in a busy period at the moment, we're launching new shows with Vanessa Feltz and Jeremy Kyle and you know, a lot of those things I'm thinking, you know, gosh, have we done, have we actually done that or have that graphic being made? There's so many components to what we do. So, if anything, you know, I'll wake up in the middle of the night and, you know, I actually did this week and just thought, “Oh, gosh, I must, I must e-mail that person to make sure they're aware,” you know, it's things... and again, this goes back to being part of a smaller sort of startup organization, it's that, you know, we were talking about scheduling, you know, have we spoken to the scheduling team and told them that we're doing this or that we're doing that so.
Generally I sleep quite well, but every now and again I'll just wake up and sort of think of random things and jot them down on my on my phone and kind of go back to sleep.
CW: It's good to know after all these years of breakfast TV that Erron is enjoying a good night's rest these days. Thanks to him for sharing his views with us. What do you think? Let us know by e-mail, we are [email protected]. Or on social, I am @CraigAW1969 on both Twitter and Instagram. You can of course also follow any of the Avid social accounts too.
Also check out the show notes where you can find another podcast with John Mason, the head of program output for STV in Scotland, where he discusses his passion for live news. You can also find information there about Avid Maestro graphics, now available as a software-only subscription.
Now talking of subscriptions, don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get notified when new episodes are out. We're on all the major podcast platforms.
That's all for this episode. I hoped you enjoyed hearing Erron's thoughts. I know I certainly did. Thanks as always to the production team behind the show, producer Matt Diggs, thanks to Erron for joining us, and thanks of course to you for listening. Join me, Craig Wilson, next time for more behind the scenes chat with the people making the media