The new rules for pre-recorded TV interviews

What is the ‘etiquette’ in a pre-recorded TV interview when a guest fluffs his or her lines and wants another go, or hasn’t got an answer to the question and wants time to think, or wants a question re-phrased because they feel it is predicated on a factual inaccuracy? It is common practice to take pauses in between some of the questions to ‘have another go’ or work out how a topic could be covered in a better or more succinct way, very often with the camera still rolling. Not so long ago, these ‘behind the scenes’ negotiations or fluffed takes would never have made it to air in 99.99% of cases. That may be changing, with infinite space on YouTube for endless bloopers and out-takes which may or may not have been seen on broadcast TV. High-profile interviewees need to change their behaviour to take account of it, and perhaps get better media training.

This week a petulant Mike Lazaridis, Co-CEO of the BlackBerry smartphone makers RIM, abruptly terminated a BBC interview with technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. He objected to a line of questioning about the well-publicised battles the company has had with governments in India and the Middle East, which want to be able to monitor email traffic through the highly secure BlackBerry platform. Mr Lazaridis was there to promote the new PlayBook tablet device, and he and his PR woman (heard interrupting in the background) clearly wanted to stay on-topic.

Now however, the fact of the walkout has become the story, and attracted global attention. If Mr Lazaridis had politely asked for a pause in the interview, then negotiated off-camera, I suspect he would have got away with it. Instead he carried on the conversation, then finally snapped during a re-phrased version of the offending question, saying ‘It’s over – interview’s over.’ RIM has been under pressure on a number of fronts, and its boss had probably had a long day. Now more than ever though, it is vital to keep your cool, and be prepared to deal – at least briefly – with current topics beyond your own narrowly-defined agenda. Better to have given a positive, fairly general answer about the way the governmental issue was being resolved, then returned to the previous topic – or, after his answer, given a broad smile, leant over to shake hands and said ‘And I’m afraid I’ll have to leave it there – I’m late for my next interview –but good to meet you Rory.’