Bravo’s new series Tabloid Wars has shocked journalists and editors with how accurate a picture it paints of life inside a daily newspaper, in this case the New York Daily News. (The second episode of Tabloid Wars will air on Bravo this Monday, July 31 at 9 PM.) One of the show’s executive producers, Belisa Balaban, talks to us about the challenges and insights that came out of reporting on reporters.
Gal Beckerman: What inspired you to take on the Daily News as a subject for a reality show? What were the elements that made you think it would work? And what were the problems you anticipated?
Belisa Balaban: First of all, I would draw a slight distinction between this show and a classic reality show. There is really none of the kind of insider backstabbing and infighting and inter-office flirting and politics that you would see in a classic reality show. You see a group of talented, hard-working people facing a collective villain, chasing the news. And so in that sense I would call this much more of a documentary series.
We were incredibly excited by the opportunity to explore the world of a daily newspaper. And for us the exciting part of it was following a group of people who are extremely passionate about what they do and bringing that to life for television.
GB: Didn’t you worry that you would just end up filming people sitting at their computers and talking on the phone? Because that’s a lot of what we do.
BB: We definitely anticipated that challenge and we knew that was certainly a huge part of what journalists like you and those at the Daily News do everyday, they talk on the phone, they work on their computers, both doing research and writing. And it’s extremely exciting while you’re doing it and filled with drama and jeopardy, but less exciting when you are watching it on your TV. At the same time, the show started to come to life for us as we were spending time with reporters and photographers on the streets and we would feel news break. When a big story broke it was palpable, the newsroom immediately leapt into action, people came together, and this beast would awaken. The first time we saw that, actually, we knew that we had a great, exciting, action-packed show on our hands.
The other huge creative thing we hit upon that we knew would bring the show to life was when we realized that we would have to be multiple places at the same time. So that when we are telling the story of a cop who is shot up in Harlem, we are on the street with Kerry Burke, we are on the street with Jonathan Lemire, and we are in the newsroom with Tracy Conner who is writing the story and Greg Gittrich who is the editor, who’s watching everything come together. And that approach of seeing the story come together through so many essential parts was the key for us, that’s the dynamic that makes it work.
GB: What surprised you about the environment? From reviews, people seemed to be shocked that journalists work so hard and are so concerned with the truth. Did this surprise you as well?
BB: Those reviews certainly surprised me, and I resented them. I was not surprised by how incredibly hard everyone worked — well, I was a bit, after being in a few workplace environments making documentaries, and I would say that the UCLA Hospital has nothing on how hard these journalists work. So, yes, to a certain extent it was surprising and impressive. But not because I thought journalists were lazy. But because you look at somebody like Kerry Burke who absolutely will not rest until he gets the story, and that’s incredible no matter what environment you talk about. I think more than anything we were taken with the level of personal commitment most of these journalists bring to their work, and the level of passion. But perhaps more surprising than anything was the level of idealism. Because I think there’s a myth that journalists are jaded or cynical, and that was not our experience at the Daily News.
GB: That’s interesting, because the Daily News, being a tabloid, people generally think that their motivation is to get the most sensational story, whatever will sell the most papers. That you should find idealism there, even among the gossip columnists, is fascinating.