Local News a la ‘Let’s Talk Live’

With a new co-host, new set and new air time, News Channel 8 broke away from behind-the-desk reporting to bring viewers a morning talk show that focuses on all things local.

With a new co-host, new set and new air time, News Channel 8 broke away from behind-the-desk reporting to bring viewers a morning talk show that focuses on all things local.

By Caty Gordon

Melanie Hastings and Natasha Barrett (Courtesy of Michael Schwartz)
Melanie Hastings and Natasha Barrett (Courtesy of Michael Schwartz)

With both the White House and Capitol just a stone’s throw away, Northern Virginia is constantly being saturated with up-to-the-minute accounts of what’s happening on a national level. It’s easy for truly local news to get lost in the shuffle of politicians, lobbyists and campaigns.

News Channel 8 is reclaiming local news with a refreshingly modern talk show twist. “Let’s Talk Live,” now aired at 11 a.m. on weekdays, offers a vibrant perspective on the people and events that affect the Northern Virginia, Maryland and D.C. areas. Veteran host Natasha Barrett and fresh face Melanie Hastings discuss what makes their show a standout and why viewers are tuning in.


Tell me about “Let’s Talk Live.” What does it feature that other news programs might not?
Natasha Barrett: We call it “LTL” (“Let’s Talk Live”). It’s really different than anything else that’s on television right now. It’s D.C.’s only talk show, and it highlights what’s going on in the city. Everybody has politics shows, everybody has news, but we highlight the chefs in town, people on reality shows, who’s coming in and out of the Capitol, movie stars that are coming and local stuff that’s even happening out in Reston for families, so it’s all over the place.
Melanie Hastings: I look at it sort of like a magazine on TV because you have different segments where we talk about lifestyle issues, things that are important for families, or for women, health issues and also things for your home. It’s not hard news like the rest of our programming, so this is our one chance where we can be a little freer and talk more about feature topics.

You mentioned families and women. Is that your target audience?
NB: I’m not entirely sure about the demographics, but I’m fairly sure it’s heavily skewed toward women during the day, am I right? MH: Yeah, we have our male viewers who are welcome, too. It’s for the person who is at home raising families, and that’s women and men. We’ve met great dads that are doing that these days, so we don’t want to say this is just for women, because we get emails from great men who like the show as well and people who are working from home.

What do you think attracts those viewers to your show?
MH: Maybe it’s the women-power energy we have on the set. Natasha and I have a lot of fun when we have our host chat segments when we talk about different items of the day that we’ve heard about either online or on the news. The actress Katherine Heigl had said it’s OK for married people to keep secrets so we talked about that. It’s kind of fun, the energy between Natasha and me, and our takes on some of these issues. Sometimes we agree, and sometimes we don’t.
NB: So much of this show is off the cuff. You’re so used to people reading a teleprompter when you get your news, but we get to have fun and make fun of ourselves all the time, so I think people like seeing that.

How will the show bring the audience a new dose of local news?
NB: When I explain it to people I say, “It’s ‘The View’ meets ‘Today Show’ on a smaller, local scale.” You have a mix of what’s going on. You have the gossip, you have the fun, but it’s all D.C., locally based. I think it’s really showing people what’s going on in the area past the crime, past the politics, and giving viewers stuff they’d really be interested in.

We understand that the set design just underwent a facelift. Can you tell me about what has been changed and how you expect viewers to react?
NB: We’re very excited about it because it’s more of an interactive set. For example, today we had Spike Mendelsohn, who was on a past season of “Top Chef.” He runs Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill. He brought his famous milkshakes and his new cookbook, so I think this set has a lot more dimensions to highlight guests like that.

What guests or features are scheduled to appear on the show in the future?
NB: We’re going to let our producer Laura take this one.
Laura Chavez (“Let’s Talk Live” producer): Right now we’re working with a couple fashion designers that are going to come on and a series piece that highlights undiscovered spots in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia. “Top Chef D.C.” is really big in this area, so we’re going to have a “Top Chef” roundtable with some of the former contestants like Spike Mendelsohn, Mike Isabella and Carla Hall. They’re going to come on every once in a while and give us a play-by-play of what they think happened behind the scenes of “Top Chef.” And we’re going to be taking a look at the lighter side of news and lifestyle and have another piece coming up, “The Right Wardrobe for You,” where we’ll take different body types and say, “OK, if you’re pear-shaped looking for a pair of jeans, this is what you’ll want; if you’re really skinny, this is what you’ll want.” So we’re really trying to make sure everyone is included and everyone has fun watching.

Do you find yourself feeling more comfortable hosting a talk show instead of reporting from behind a desk?
NB: I think it’s a real good mix. I’ve been on this show now for about a year and a half and reporting on the 5 and 6 o’clock news on Channel 7, so it’s a crazy day but an exciting day because I go from using one part of my brain to using a completely different one. I love the mix of being able to really tell a good story on the news and also be able to interview people that I may have only a minute to talk about on the news but on the talk show I can get more in-depth.
MH: I normally anchor the early morning shows, and then I had the opportunity to sub-host “LTL” in the past year, so now that I’ve been named permanent host I’m looking forward to it because you stretch totally different muscles. One is a more structured setting where you’re reading the news and the only chance you have to ad lib is talking to weather or traffic or coming out of a report and asking the reporter a question. In “LTL,” you really get a chance to show your personality, and I’m really looking forward to that.

What are some of the challenges you expect the talk show to face that news reporting doesn’t?
NB: You never know what’s going to happen; just like when you’re a reporter doing a live shot, you never know who’s going to come up behind you and do something. But this is live television so it’s a lot more spontaneous, often for the better. I don’t think it’s problematic in any way because it’s live, you’re on for an entire hour, you don’t know who will say what, or mess up, and it’s just crazy that way. MH: One time we were co-hosting, and we had a guest who didn’t show, so we had to fill a whole eight-minute block at the last minute. One of the producers got on her BlackBerry, and she called somebody who happened to be across the street, and they offered to walk over and fill the slot for us. So those kinds of things happen when you’re doing live TV, and you’re dealing with guests who get caught in traffic or for one reason or another can’t make it. So you just kind of roll with it.
NB: Sometimes guests freeze up, and you have to bring them back down to earth. And there are also guests who won’t shut up, and that’s great, too.

How does the show find these guests?
NB: We’ve got great contacts. One thing that’s great about the new umbrella that’s happening over here at Channel 7, 8 and Politico is that we have so many great people under one roof that know so many other people so it gives us a great contact base. And people are really involved in things outside the station, and we can just pull ourselves together and make it happen.
MH: We get some people who are celebrities coming to town who are making the rounds, so of course we grab them when the opportunity arises. But other guests who are locally based make appearances and often become frequent contributors.

I understand that this is an all-female production. What is the dynamic of that in terms of pros and cons?
NB: Doug [McKelway] was a previous host and did a great job and will be doing more news on Channel 7, which really is his roots. But as far as going with two female hosts now we’re trying to engage more of our target audience, so that’s why we made the change.

Do you see this talk show as a new avenue for a local station to do morning talk shows, with national talk shows being so popular?
NB: You never know. When you look at TV in general a lot more people want their news but want it entertainment-ish. News is changing, so for us we get to test this out and have a great time.

(August 2010)