By Peter Don

Broadcast Programming & Research

…. what does television know about creating interesting characters for TV shows? TV sit com shows are based around ‘real’ people experiencing relatable situations, at least that usually the objective. The success of these shows may be based on their environment (office/home/apartment) but then they are developed largely through the identity and relationships between the characters. As these shows develop, we ‘learn’  more about the individuals in the group, and occasionally relate to one or other of these – the concept of having a ‘favourite’  character in a show (or in a band) is nothing new – the point is whether these individual characters are interesting, entertaining – but most of all in a ‘believable’ kind of way …  the question of believable is a flexible one however as we will see from some of the examples later.  

Successful shows also have a secret ingredient that most radio shows lack – and that’s great writing –  the great lines that give a show impact and memorability – but the format for TV is different than the radio on in one significant way, TV needs to grab attention for 30 minutes a week and that means that there’s no time to waste on superfluous garbage that doesn’t support the plot, or help develop the character’s identity. Great TV is based on well developed relatable characters, good content (story lines), impact (delivery) and topicality …

 …  but wait a minute – doesn’t that apply to radio just as much as TV?

 Great breakfast shows should deliver all of those things ….  let’s also remember that not all TV shows work – the ones that fail usually don’t deliver well enough on those basic concepts …

 .. let’s take a fresh look at how radio and television go about getting to (more or less) the same point


One of the most successful TV sitcoms of the past few years was Seinfeld. The self confessed ‘Show about Nothing’ ….  what they did have was great characters – good lines and topical and relatable subjects ..  the show’s subjects are still topical and it has been in syndication more than ten years after the last episode was made. Each of the characters were well defined – they were people that could be relatively easily described to someone who has never seen the show …
The interaction of the characters was based on the perspective that were in keeping with their personalities.
the characters have an element of caricature – some of their features are exaggerated for impact and comic effect. 
The parallel with radio is obvious although not especially flattering. Radio is not usually as well thought out, and generally doesn’t plan for the development of the characters within the lifecycle of the show.

Television may create the basic ‘scenario’ and then hire the characters
Radio hires the people and then decides how they might work together.

One builds from the concept, the other creates the show from the talent. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however this also needs to be done against the backdrop of …

 “what does the audience want?”
How can we deliver this in an interesting and an entertaining way. 
The team dynamics then become critical – while the objective is to create ‘real’ characters, the use of caricatures and contrast helps to bring these into focus. A good example of this is in the TV show ‘Boston Legal’, the seemingly ‘normal’ characters reveal their darker/quirky sides – the show itself introduces interesting but flawed characters to add both visual and personality contrast. The Dwarf girlfriend/lawyer, the cross-dressing assistant, the recurring use of various judges with more than  their share of personality flaws.

A show based on a cast of characters that are totally ‘normal’ would simply pass by unnoticed.

 where’s the lesson for radio here??

Are each of the characters in your show well defined – what are the ‘word pictures’ that describe them to someone who has never listened? Do these characters fulfil the expectation of their role – within the team and within the show? Is the overall show compelling to listen to.
are these characters being developed … 

but there’s more …….. 

 strong support staff make talent shine:
a co-host that knows radio formatics and knows the city
the producer – the ‘programme director’ of the breakfast show
the right news content (anchor) is essential for adult formats and can add dimension for more contemporary formats
Sports generates passion – does the show reflect that? 

In smaller markets the talent pool is more limited ….  but there may also be a way

Find one talented person as “main character”
Other cast members are listeners – make the show phone intensive (but remember they need to add dimension and entertainment)
Consider using a talent coach to help develop available talent.

Finally ….. remember that caricatures highlight existing characteristics of an individual, or situation by exaggerating what’s already recognisable…