A couple of weeks back, I sat down to watch the series finale of Better Call Saul. Now, if you are not familiar with the show, it was a prequel to Breaking Bad focused on Walter White’s lawyer and exquisite dresser, Saul Goodman. They did something that not many television shows have been able to do, and I’m not talking about having a satisfying finale (which they also were able to pull off).
While it may have not been the cultural phenomenon that Breaking Bad was, it was a success with both critics and fans. When the series was first announced, I never thought that would have been the case. Saul Goodman was a fun, but pretty secondary character in the Breaking Bad series. I thought that they would have a tough time putting together a season of this prequel, let alone six. How did they pull this off? Creator Vince Gilligan and show runner Peter Gould did it with great storytelling and character development; two things where air talent and programming can take some cues from.
Over the years, I had many conversations with air talent about opening up and bringing the audience into their lives. Their shifts should be less about front sells and back sells and more of an opportunity start building their “characters” with experiences that were relatable to the audience. Both on air and online, I encouraged them to open up. Some embraced it, while others ran from it. Now the jocks may not have the same level of intrigue as avoiding the cartel or trying to frame your old boss, but I am sure that every one of them has a story each week that is either funny or relatable to a portion of their audience. Nothing would drive me crazy more than when I would hear one of them say, “I don’t know what to talk about” only for them to tell me a great story that happened to them outside of an aircheck the next day. You have seen all the research on why people listen to the radio. The DJs, hosts and “shows” are near the top as well as companionship aka “keeping me company.” It is the connection between the talent and the audience, and the more that the audience knows about their favorite on-air personality, the deeper those connections will go. It has always amazed me how many out of market personalities and voice trackers tie in so little of their personal lives into their shows. If you have been on the air for an extended period of time and all the audience knows about you is that “you are in the middle of ten in a row” there is no connection, there. Opening up is not always easy. It can blur the lines of what is work and what is your personal life. It not only puts the talent out there, but also those around them including their partners and their families. Opening up can often show our flaws. It can take away what some believe is their cool factor and make them feel vulnerable, but in reality, it makes them more human and relatable to the audience. No matter what you are going through, both positive and negative, I can tell you that a segment of your audience can relate to it. Better Call Saul became a hit despite Saul being a supporting character in Breaking Bad. Gilligan and Gould produced a great back story for Saul Goodman an added new, compelling characters to help create layers and eventually a great series. Characters like Kim Wexler and Nacho Varga had no ties to Breaking bad and were created specifically for “Saul.” These characters grew and at times, were just as compelling as Saul’s storyline. What supporting character in your world could have a starring role? You see this a lot in morning shows. One show I worked with found a star in the cluster’s janitor. Another show found a star in our receptionist who had a bigger personality than most jocks. And yet another show found a star in a local electrician who was constantly at the station trying t fix the studio lights. This supporting character actually became Saul like as he eventually became a full-time morning show host. Better Caul Saul has another good lesson for established shows. It showed great character evolution. All great radio shows have well developed characters. For long running shows, those well-defined characters often evolve over time. Just as Jimmy McGill evolved into Saul and then into Gene, the hosts will often do the same over time. This could be due to circumstance, necessity, or both. As you get older, thing shift in importance to you. The same thing happens with the audience. Character evolution allows new and different stories to be told and sometimes, breathe new life into a show. The success of Better Call Saul showed that great characters can reap huge benefits, even when it is not expected. Creator Vince Gilligan and show runner Peter Gould used both of these elements to create what some people are calling the best prequel series ever. It could not have been an easy sell to build a spinoff of one of the most acclaimed shows of all time around a secondary character. That’s exactly what they did and did it using great storytelling and character development. What can your radio station do when you and your talent take the time and double down on both of them?
RY-DIO is the musings of Ryan Patrick who not only enjoyed playing radio for 25+ years in the rock and alternative formats but has worked with the next generation of talent teaching audio at Grandview University. His column appears monthly and his daily routine has been taken over by driving a 5 year old to hockey practice.
RY-DIO with Ryan Patrick
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WHY CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT MATTERS