Fake Premises – Do’s and Dont’s

 In Blog

By Jeff McHugh and Stan Main

Last week, the Twitterverse was having a hissy fit about the gay dads who received a hateful response to a birthday party invitation for their daughter. 

This week, it became public that the whole thing was a hoax perpetrated by K98.3 Long Island morning hosts Steve and Leeana.  The hosts were suspended after posting a lengthy apology on the station website, which made clear that station management had no knowledge of the stunt in advance.

We coach shows that it is OK to sometimes use actors and made-up premises to create compelling content.  But it is also true that there are lines that a show should not cross when dramatizing a segment for air.

Years ago, KIKX Tucson lost its licence when management impersonated police officers in on-air announcements claiming that DJ Gary Craig (who was later at WTIC-FM in Hartford) had been kidnapped. The station went dark in 1984 and never returned to air.

You may also remember when KROQ’s Kevin And Bean were suspended for faking an on-air murder confession and got the police involved in a real manhunt for a non-existent killer.  

So how do you walk the line between creating compelling dramatizations and creating career-ending problems for yourself?  Here are some guidelines to consider;

1.  Get management buy-in.  Be up-front about your plans before air and collaborate with your directors about what is kosher/not kosher.

2.  Never dramatize serious crimes.  Murder, kidnapping, rape, hate crimes, terrorism – all off limits. If there is a chance that law enforcement might be obligated to respond to your created content, don’t go there.  

3.  The first rule of keeping a secret = don’t tell anyone!  After briefing management, no other living soul needs to know that actors are performing your War Of The Roses segment.

4.  Keep everything audio-based.  Fabricating photos, videos and other tangible “evidence” may be perceived as misleading.

5.  Admit it. If anyone points out that you are dramatizing, (and competitors have occasionally blown cover) reference how shows like 48 Hours recreate situations based on true stories, and any controversy will be short-lived.  Ever notice how popular the World Wrestling Federation is? 

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