To Avoid the ‘Car-Crash’ Interview, Don’t Break the Unspoken Rules of the Game

It’s been a month for awkward TV and radio exchanges – some would call them ‘car-crash interviews’ – which have graphically illustrated what can happen when you ignore the unwritten rules of the interview game. Essentially I would divide these into two types. For relatively light-hearted topics – acting awards, movie or product promotions and so on – your job is to give the channel around 2-3 minutes of lively chat to keep their audience engaged. In return you raise your/your product’s profile. If you comply, what you actually say isn’t really that important (unless you stray on to topics that might create an ugly Twitter pile-on).
For more serious subjects, your job is to clearly and authoritatively get your point of view across, (so do practice articulating your main points out loud beforehand if you can), while anticipating any tough but relevant questions that could come up, so you can be ready to deal with them.

The first rule was broken by actor Hugh Grant at the Oscars, who was collared for a ‘red carpet’ chat by host Ashley Graham, and asked some typical questions about who he fancied for an award, what he was wearing for the occasion, and so on. Hardly ground-breaking but any big-name actor has done dozens of these. Hugh Grant can be very witty in interviews, but on this occasion was obviously bored, and gave fairly monosyllabic answers. This didn’t make him look smart – just discourteous, while probably losing him some fans. The lesson here is that broadcast professionals are human too – they may occasionally strike the wrong tone, so if the Four Weddings star thought he was being asked inane questions, tough luck – what did he expect at the Oscars ceremony – his thoughts on the meaning of life or a critique of the Home Secretary’s immigration proposals? Either play the game, smile and be patient, or wave and carry on walking by.

More seriously, exhibits B and C relate to the release of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s thousands of confidential Covid-era WhatsApp messages by his biographer Isabel Oakeshott, in defiance of a non-disclosure agreement. She was persistently questioned on Times Radio about why she passed on the messages to the Daily Telegraph, rather than to the people who paid her wages at TalkTV/News UK, publishers of the rival Times and Sun. This was a fair and predictable question but she kept refusing to answer, maintaining it was ‘not what the public was interested in’. After some angry exchanges, she then walked out – never a good look.
Our final example comes courtesy of GB News, where lawyer Jonathan Coad got into an on-air strop when the host explained he had acted for Matt Hancock. Mr Coad angrily said he had specifically emailed the programme to ask them not to mention that fact. But his email – subsequently read out on the air – actually said exactly the opposite, as he’d missed out the word ‘not’. A nightmare – you could almost feel sorry for him. Almost. The lesson – prepare properly, don’t try to be too clever – and if you get angry on the air, you’re rarely going to be the one who comes off best.

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