The Art of Holding a Meeting : Emmys: Telecasts of the Los Angeles school board’s sessions are in the running for one of the awards.
It’s local Emmy Award night in Los Angeles. The best and the brightest of Southland-produced television have gathered to accept their peers’ accolades. And rubbing shoulders with programs like Channel 7’s “First International Stuntman Competition” and Channel 5’s “Rose Parade Countdown” is the decidedly non-dramatic series about the Los Angeles Board of Education. It’s no joke. The school board meetings, televised on the district’s own cable television station for the last two years, are one of two nominees for best local public affairs show shot outside of a studio. The other competitor is consumer advocate David Horowitz’s show, “Fight Back.”
“I’d be less than honest if I said I expected to get this nomination, what with all the networks and things in this city,” admits Robert V. Greene, who produces the weekly show for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s television station, KLCS.
The Emmys will be presented Saturday night at a private ceremony at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, which is also the site of the televised national Emmy Awards ceremony in September.
Up for consideration are 220 locally produced television shows, nominated in 51 categories and judged by panels from local stations across the country. The hourlong montage of school board meeting footage was reviewed by a crew from a Detroit news station, which narrowed the field of submissions in its category--from three to two.
“It’s hard to compare us to ‘Fight Back,”’ said Greene. “It’s apples and oranges. It’s whether we’re going to look at which Ziploc bags work better or who gets eliminated from the budget.”
KLCS has won local Emmys before, mostly for its instructional programs, which are shown in classrooms. But this is the first time that the station has been nominated for its meeting coverage.
It was during her term as president that board member Roberta Weintraub--a veteran of television talk shows--decreed that meetings should be broadcast, giving outsiders a peek into how the nation’s second-largest school district conducts its business.
“One of the biggest criticisms of the board had been that we were inaccessible to the public,” Weintraub said. “We wanted to let the public really be a part of what was happening.”
No rating service keeps tabs on how many people tune in the taped programs, shown on KLCS at 9 p.m. each Monday, then replayed Sunday afternoons at 3. But a one-time check by the station showed that 125,000 people watch it at any one time, and the board meetings are among its most popular shows, Greene said.
“I’m always amazed at the number of people who say ‘I’ve seen that’ when they find out what I do for a living,” he said. While the telecasts draw large numbers of parents and teachers, “we’re probably discovered by people just flipping channels more than anything else.”
Viewers have a lot of time to flip. The typical board meeting can last six or seven hours. The taped presentation often lasts until 3 a.m.
“Our meetings are definitely a lot longer now,” Weintraub said. “We used to just go through the reports, bang, bang, bang. Now, we take the time to explain (to the viewers) what we’re voting on and what the programs involve.”
Each board member now seems compelled to look directly into the camera and make a speech about almost every issue up for a vote--speeches that became so long that the board earlier this year voted to restrict the time each member could speak to five minutes per turn and is now considering a motion to limit board meetings to five hours.
“We all know we’re on television, and if you don’t make a statement, you worry that you look like ‘What are you doing there?’ ” Weintraub said. “We’re political, and we use it as a tool. But I’d hate to go back to the days when we did our business in the dark.”