A TV researcher stopped me this week and said, “what I really want to do is become a TV presenter.” I said why bother, why don’t you just get yourself a YouTube channel! I work with lots of presenters and it got me thinking about routes into this line of work. The common misconception is that people just get lucky. Another is that there is lots of money to be made doing it. Whether you want to get into it or are just plain nosey here’s my list of established routes into the business.
1- Sponsored Industry Insiders
Many of the new faces on TV aren’t new to the industry. They’ll have worked in TV already behind the camera as researchers or producers. But there’s no point just hanging around in a researcher role hoping to get lucky. The decision to appoint a presenter is made at the highest level. Channel controllers will take recommendations from senior TV executives. To get a break you’ll need the sponsorship and trust of a decision maker. That doesn’t mean dropping them an email with your showreel shot in the garden. Networking with the TV elite isn’t easy even for established TV professionals so what’s your strategy? “Look at me, I’m available” is a naive approach. Do you know what shows are in development and why you’d be right to front them? Who are your friends in high places? Don’t ping humble TV directors such as myself, we don’t make these decisions.
2- Experts and Journalism
People are often chosen to front a TV show because they’re already an established authority, they’re already known and have made some noise in their field. They’re academics, authors, journalists or business people. They’ve not only got a track record of expertise but crucially have already appeared in the media showing evidence of this. People who frequently appear as bit part expert contributors on TV and radio are evidencing their ability to perform in a bigger role and will be front and centre when an opportunity arises.
3 – Actors and Personalities
Already having a profile makes actors, sports personalities and people with notoriety an obvious choice to front TV. This route is for people who’ve already probably made it in their first choice of career. The issue is there’s no shortage of people with very strong backgrounds. If you are paralympic gold medallist great, if you won bronze in archery in 1988 forget it. I’ve worked with a few actor-cum-TV presenters, for some it’s a challenge to be themselves and work unscripted. If you’re not already in this bracket and successful at it, I wouldn’t waste your time taking acting lessons as a route into presenting.
4 – YouTubers and Social Media Influencers
Nothing will open doors like one million followers but there’s a good reason why many don’t cross over into TV. Why bother, working in telly means sharing or handing over creative control. This category creates rich pickings for reality TV casting teams. Although appearing on a reality show can lead to presenting offers there’s a fast burn rate of faces unless you have something extra to offer.
5 – The Media Elite
If you want to get on TV a great route is to own it. Think of a TV presenter who’s been on the box for years, chances are they own part of a production company or are actively involved in creating and pitching TV shows to commissioners. These characters may have started as a jobbing TV presenter but crucially realised that it’s not an industry where you sit on your hands and wait for your next job. Presenters who are industry power players use their profile to open doors and sell their new ideas. While I’m not suggesting you go out and start a TV production company, once you are on TV it pays to work yourself into a position where you own at least some part of the rights to the ideas and business.
So there we have it, no silver bullet as far as getting on telly. But it’ll give you an idea of how and why people get there.
Like this? Read: Steve, I’ve got a great idea for a TV show