21/08/2018 by Alister Albert 0 Comments
The Unlikeliest of Pairings
What does the Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz (hereafter the Show) and the project management framework, Agile Project Management (APM) have in common? Furthermore, how does this relate to artistes and creatives and their approach to their craft and development within the entertainment industry? I'll give you a few seconds to think it through.
Take your time, there's no rush...
Ok, too much white-space...there is a rush!
Came up with anything?
Of course not.
Understandably for some persons, both these subjects may be foreign topics. However, for anyone with a basic knowledge or familiarity with either one of these, at a glance, it appears that there’s nothing in common and there’s hardly a link to entertainers, surely…At least on the surface!
Firstly, for the benefit of those who may not be familiar with the project management/IT working environment, what is APM? It is a Project Management methodology that Techtarget.com describes as “an iterative approach to planning and guiding project processes.” This is a very simplistic definition but largely captures its essence. The keyword here is iterative; which you’ll also become more familiar with in the entertainment context below, as it transcends both the business world, the Show, and can also be used by actors and entertainers to improve their skills and increase exposure, alongside receiving feedback.
Furthermore, the methodology is used to produce an output (which can be a process, service, product or software solution) that is developed in stages or versions (prototypes). At each step, the output is evaluated and tested to see if it meets (or is getting closer to meeting) the basic requirements for which it is being made. This is done repetitively (read: iteratively) until the output eventually meets the exact specifications requested by its customers/end-users. When all requirements are met, it is considered finished and is released to customers/the public.
Sounds classroom heavy, right? I know! At a basic level though, it’s actually a lot more bark than bite and is relevant here, I assure you! Here’s a brief example of how APM has been used to improve an existing product, before getting into the meaty portions of this article.
Think about the Facebook application most of us have on our phones. Remember when it did not have the video-calling feature? This was added after feedback was obtained and market research gleaned from users (like yourselves) that, such a capability would be a great addition. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder) and his team of developers took that feedback, added the feature and likely tested it repeatedly with a chosen user group, to make sure it worked and met the requirements requested from its users. During testing, they possibly got more feedback from the group, improved on the feature again (and again), until finally releasing it to the public when User Acceptance Testing (UAT) was complete. Now, we all can make free (video) calls on a social media application, found on a mobile phone; when actually, not too long ago, we were all tethered to a corded landline! Facebook therefore (and apps like it), is likely to be considered a successful example of incremental development…APM at its finest!
Business Analysts, Project Managers, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, PRINCE II (et al) qualified practitioners everywhere, don’t get too excited! This is not a scholarly business or project management article! Artistes and creatives, let’s not start scrolling towards or tapping the “X” button in the top-right hand corner of this window either! There’s something to learn from this, even from a project management and sporting angle…you’ll see!
Actors, entertainers and artistes in comparison, operate in an industry where creativity, likeability, authenticity, popularity, visibility and relatability as qualities, are king! Keeping in-line with the Facebook example, entertainers seemingly exist nowadays to corral all the views and “likes” they can get, as those engagements and positive reviews (whether live, or via other media platforms) usually justifies a reason for them to be continually seen, given more work/exposure and therefore survive, in whatever forum/genre they exist.
However, like with Facebook and other businesses, artistes too have to continually evolve and improve, whilst taking note of feedback from their audiences, agents and Casting Directors. Failure to do so can lead to dwindling visibility, likeability and popularity, which could eventually equate to their demise. They too need to be in constant stages of “iteration,” which can bring about (hopefully), positive reinvention that is palatable to their audiences. Generally, artistes who have the flexibility to continually “reinvent” themselves and add more skills to their repertoire are the most successful ones!
Which allows us to segue on to The Dan LeBatard Show with Stugotz, which is an American sports radio-turned-tv-show, hosted nationwide, live on ESPN Radio, other US-based sporting affiliates and streaming applications. The show is self-described by host Dan LeBatard, as “a marching band to nowhere and a flying saucer of BS” which, if you’re new to the show or never heard of it - firstly, it’s a weird description and secondly, quickly raises a few concerns (and eyebrows) and portends a level of disorganisation which APM and other project management zealots may have nightmares about.
It’s a seemingly ragtag bunch of experienced sports media personnel, where hosts (Dan and John “Stugotz” Weiner) along with their production crew, opine daily and make fun of trending sports topics. However, they also very gladly run into weird and wonderful tangents, sometimes never getting back to topics they were scheduled to discuss.
In those tangents, they sometimes deliberately avoid those trending sports topics, preferring to talk about “interesting things.” An example of this was when they prodded former professional wrestler Ric Flair into volunteering stories about his countless near misses with death or him getting struck by lightning whilst carrying an umbrella as he alighted an airplane (spoiler alert: the umbrella kills the man walking behind him). They deliberately and cartoonishly (aided by Dan’s brother’s artwork in studio) endeavour to “zig, when others zag.” Entertainment is the priority, at all costs!
The strength of their show however, resides in their ability to keep relevant and use feedback internally, and from listeners externally, to develop a popular form of niche entertainment, in a widely homogenous sports entertainment market, which consequently, has allowed the show to grow exponentially over the last few years.
So in summary, a bunch of guys and gals (hosts, guest hosts and a dose of interviews with athletes and celebrities from various sports, pop-culture genres and generations) basically having a laugh on radio/tv, which a lot of time has nothing to do with sports (for which they presumably get paid!)…and as a “bonus” may every-so-often, touch some prickly, socio-political topics which no one would or should ever expect from sports radio.
So, how the hell does the concept of combining these 3 things into one article even become a thing to analyse and explore? Well, I am an actor and for now, also work as a Business Analyst, who are trained to recognise patterns and connections, no matter how inconspicuous they seem! And for your sins, I am also a huge Show follower, listening on podcast regularly. Like most, it brightens my day whenever I get a chance to tune in; mainly due to their ability to latch on to anything entertaining; from movie reviews, sports bloopers and anything remotely funny in the news headlines. However, the show fascinates me as its chaotic, edgy and seemingly lawless aura, in theory shouldn’t be successful, especially as a product owned by Disney…Yes, Walt’s Disney- which owns ESPN! Counterintuitively, they’ve managed to survive this long by exploiting their creative and fast-twitch producing skills and market awareness expertly and simply by making people…laugh! This has enabled them to create a comfortable space for their brand of entertainment thereby, vaulting them up the rankings, to now being acknowledged as the Top National Sports Radio Show. It is a hive of creativity and entertainment which appeals to me and is inspiration and fuel for lots of ideas.
For The Actors’ Post, this comparison between the Show and APM is relevant due to the reliance on creativity and innovation as ingredients for the prosperity for the Show, Agile projects and particularly for successful artistes. As alluded to earlier, artistes and creatives, all have to be mindful of their level of agility (physical, creative and self-management) and be willing to improve to ensure success and longevity in their chosen fields. Being able to develop and self-iterate (or reinvent) themselves and get feedback on the use of their skills and how they are showcased, is important for performers. Being able to stand out, be believable, authentic and unique, while delivering brilliant performances on camera, stage or at an audition is what we all seek as performers. Getting there however, requires a level of phased development, to build confidence (and skill) which would enable us to deliver those strong performances.
The LeBatard show here is an admittedly weird choice as an example for aspiring entertainers, especially considering their insistence on going against the grain. However, a page can be taken from their book by tracking how they’ve managed to achieve success and longevity in the industry by being different but also by using feedback and constant improvement and perseverance to outlast a number of shows (in lifespan and popularity) that are also in the same sport entertainment market. Not only are they fun but they’re a great illustration of how to use and embrace your skills and quirks to create a unique and popular product, which for them, is like no other in their industry.
Over the course of the Show’s 15 year history, starting off as a small, local-to-Miami sports radio show, its rise in popularity was not achieved by accident. They learnt overtime that whilst they may upset a few listeners, the majority fancied their approach, as it was deemed refreshing and entertaining. They weren’t afraid to be different and stand out from the crowded, almost samey sports talk-show environment. They learnt how to develop their ideas at pace, maintaining precious, comedic attributes and understood quickly what scores big and what should have a very short, broadcast shelf-life. Being unique and ensuring entertainment was their aim; maintaining that, ensured their success.
Other sport shows that tend to rely on news around the various sport leagues and emphasize predictions and sports rankings are usually reduced to soundbites overtime. However, because of the fun, carefree, sometimes party-like atmosphere created by LeBatard and his gang, it’s hard to miss whatever they talk about because you never want to feel left out!
Apart from my fascination with the Show as mentioned above, I chose this as a topic to discuss as live performances, whether radio, television, stage, Facebook Live, Periscope, whatever the medium, is a rather unforgiving section of the entertainment industry. If it ain’t good, it ain’t gonna last! So can be said for anything in entertainment, live or otherwise, and also in business. If you can’t adapt and iterate or maximise your unique qualities, have “thick skin,” belief in your talents and persistence, you’re likely doomed to failure. Pause here for a sec' to think about Madonna's career longevity and achievements...Reinvention and "agile" improvement was key to her continued success! Dan LeBatard and Stugotz’s continued run as a go-to show for fun and “nonsense,” is testament to that philosophy too. They stress the importance of fun; as after all, sports are just games…they’re meant to be fun. They vehemently oppose the macho, stoic, faceless and characterless identity that most athletes and shows increasingly insist they must produce.
The concept of “zigging” whilst others “zag” can be a source of contention for many and can also lead to business and personal failure, as basically there is a concerted effort to go in the opposite direction of what is expected. In most cases, persons may normally advocate or prefer “playing it safe” and following the zagging movement. That’s fine, but if as an artiste you’re choosing to zig (being drastically different), you better be confident in your zigging abilities and being able to make it very believable and palatable to your audience. It would be nonsensical to go into an audition room and try to go as far left-field as possible with an interpretation of something that should be rather simple. That of course is true, unless you have the utmost belief in yourself, researched the connections and scene(s) well enough and have received feedback from “testing” and rehearsing your audition technique with an objective audience, gaining their approval that your unique interpretation is worth showcasing.
Quite aware of the mortality of live sports shows, Dan and Stugotz are always in forward phases of agility, improving and adapting, adding layers of uniqueness, youth and relevance, thus catering to larger cross-sections of the public, while remaining true to their values. So should we as actors and performers! Ultimately, for the Show, this is a business which traffics in bottom-lines of profit, likes, views, various statistics and targets for new listeners, podcast downloads, for example. Dan and Stugotz wouldn’t be given a contract extension if they weren’t meeting these measurable performance indicators. Their ability to continually adapt, find new voices and improve different features and segments largely extends their lifespan on air; until they eventually retire or get terminated because either host says something controversial that gets the show cancelled…which is very likely by the way!
Actors, artistes and performers are entertainers. We’re constantly told by agents and others to conduct ourselves like a business. Adapting, revamping, adding layers, embracing our uniqueness and being able to learn from constructive criticism and feedback is all in a day’s work! We too need to do our own Plan-Design-Develop-Test-Release-Feedback cycle (as shown in the lead picture of article) to cultivate personal improvement. Being agile in every sense is essential, as you never know what will get thrown at you by your colleagues, agents, Casting Directors, writers, crowds and others we engage with.
This article was not just some analytical infomercial for The Dan LeBatard Show and ESPN but aimed to highlight, using the Show as an example, that constant reinvention and the willingness to get feedback and develop is needed to survive in this fickle and unpredictable entertainment industry. So why not take a page from them! Have fun but be aware of your limitations and need for improvement. Refine your skills and mental agility along the way and be receptive to feedback, as that will ensure you maintain relevance with your audience and become the best and most successful version of yourself!