If you have ever heard the phrase “There goes that news van again,” you know the work of Mike Davis and Peter Churchman. Over the past 40 years, the duo has produced more than 1,300 spots to promote local newscasts, anchors and reporters. In addition to millions of viewers, the spots have won the plaudits of their peers.
When Mike Davis started working with WPVI Philadelphia in 1971, he says local TV news marketing was “unimaginative and spoke to TV station management rather than to customers.”
“Here it is, 40 years later, and very little has changed,” he says.
Just kidding. The fact is Davis and his longtime collaborator Peter Churchman have produced plenty of imaginative spots for newscasts and talent over those 40 years and inspired many others to do the same.
They’ve combined to create more than 1,300 local spots for more than 60 TV stations, mostly in large markets.
Even though Davis and Churchman each has his own company, they often work in tandem. Davis generates the business and comes up with the concept. Once approved by the client, Churchman steps in to produce and direct the spots.
Their work has won more than 100 PROMAX (formerly BPME) awards over the years. And they are responsible for what may be the most well-known local TV news image spot ever made, “Home Movies.”
Churchman, who has produced and directed many versions of “Home Movies,” so many that “There’s that news van again” has become a catchphrase known to millions.
“That’s just from local markets,” says Churchman. “It was never done on a national scale. It’s pretty amazing.”
Davis remembers that the first version of “Home Movies” was done in 1980 for WVUE New Orleans. “But it wasn’t until we did a version for WPVI in Philly that it got so much attention. It’s a great example of a simple, single idea that’s well-executed.”
Despite the popularity of “Home Movies,” in terms of breakthrough creative, he favors some of the earlier ID/recognition spots he did for WPVI.
The impetus for those came from Walter Liss, then the promotions director for WPVI, now the head of the ABC TV station group. “Liss had research that said only 48 percent of the market recognized [anchor] Larry Kane. Walter said if only 48 percent recognized him, then 52 percent don’t. So the first task was to make that 48 into 100.”
An ID/recognition spot, according to Davis, establishes the name, the face and the work place of a news talent in a fun, memorable manner.
When he did the spot for Kane in 1970, “it was almost an act of sacrilege to use humor to promote an anchorman, as if we were insulting his dignity.”
But Davis says his approach was to show the anchor “as a real person.”
Larry Kane, a long-time Philly news personality who also worked at both WCAU and KYW in the city, says Davis is “an unsung hero of local TV news marketing.”
Of the elevator spot, Kane claims, “every single word she says was … based on the feedback we were getting back from all over town.”
Davis points out that the woman in the spot was a cast member on Candid Camera.
Al Primo, the father of Eyewitness News in 1965 at KYW in Philadelphia, is a Davis fan, crediting him with creating the “first bona fide promotion of anchormen as personalities, someone the viewers could know, like and trust.”
“News purists” criticized Davis’ approach, but they also criticized his Eyewitness News concept. “Many had a ‘don’t mess with the news’ mentality.”
Churchman says the hallmark of Davis’ creative is humor. “Mike uses it to show the news talent to be a person, someone the viewers could relate to.”
The humor, along with a touch of sentimentality, nicely colors an ID/recognition spot he did for WABC New York’s weatherman Lee Goldberg last year. It incorporates a video of Goldberg doing a weather forecast for a local cable system when he was 15 years old.
Davis says the spot adheres to one of his axioms: “Find the truth and use it.”
While Churchman has worked closely with Davis over the years, he has also carved out his own niche as a deft director of on-air talent and man-on-the-street testimonials for local TV news.
Churchman put his MOS skills to work for Cox’s WFTV Orlando in 2005. “We did a variety of spots, but I loved [‘Coverage You Can Count On’] because of its energy and great look at the whole central Florida market.”
Bob St Charles, creative services director for WFTV, says, “Peter makes our talent look big-market. It’s his combination of high-end production and relaxing style.”
Another of Churchman’s favorites is a spot he did just last year for WABC anchor Bill Ritter.
“We combined some composting, many locations and creative editing to make Ritter and Eyewitness News look as big as they are in that market. It was almost like a movie trailer.”
“The production value of the spot needs to reflect the standard that you want to convey about your station,” Churchman says. “It has to look polished, finished and professional because you’re representing a product that needs to be held in high esteem.”
This column in one is an occasional series on TV station creative services by Paul Greeley, who has more than 20 years of experience in local TV marketing. He was recently the VP of marketing for a top-20 broadcast group. He has also worked for TV stations in Philadelphia, Orlando, New Orleans and Ft Myers. From 1986 to 1988, he worked for Davis and Churchman as their only staff writer. Greeley can be reached at [email protected] or at 817-578-6324. You may also view his VisualCV, which has links to his work.