truTV’s new series Breaking Greenville, described by the network as a “comedic docu-soap,” brings a docuseries approach to the often-comical behind-the-camera workings of real-life local news stations in Greenville, Miss., in the delta, one of the smallest markets in America. The result is sometimes almost too crazy to be believed, at times resembling a situation from the Anchorman movies, but, if you’re familiar with local news, some of the personalities and activities chronicled in the series may not be surprising. No matter how large or small the market in which you watch your news is, you’ll probably recognize some of the characters, from the way-too-chipper morning anchors to the wacky weatherman to the old-guard anchorman trying to wrangle the newbies.
At the heart of Breaking Greenville are the personalities at Greenville stations WABG (pictured left) and WXVT (pictured right), and the friendly rivalry between the respective news teams to capture the eyeballs of the viewers in their small market — which can be challenging in an area where sometimes the biggest news event is a cat getting stuck in a tree. Much of the focus is on the perky morning show anchors at each station — Lucy Biggers of WABG, and Callie Carroll of WXVT — and their efforts to one-up each other with on-camera stunts, stealing guests and more. In the opening episode, for instance, Callie tries something bold for the area — she weighs herself on camera, beginning a discussion on her newscast about healthy eating, exercise, and the various forms of female beauty. Lucy, upon seeing Callie’s report, is impressed (and a bit stunned that a woman would reveal her weight on-air), and Lucy’s news director indicates those are the sort of ideas she should be coming up with. A theme throughout the show appears to be 24-year-old Lucy’s efforts to mature into her profession (people try to get her to stop using the word “awesome,” for example, and to give up high-fiving interview subjects).
I spoke with Lucy Biggers recently about Breaking Greenville. She was with WABG for two years — her contract expired in October — during which time the series was filmed, and she believes her experiences not only behind the news cameras, but also behind the truTV reality show cameras, helped her begin to find the maturity she needs in her profession as she moves on to other things.
Parts of “Breaking Greenville” almost seem like they could have come from an “Anchorman” movie. How “real” is the show, and did any of you act up a little more for the reality show?
Lucy Biggers: It’s so funny, because it actually is [real]. It almost sounds like I’m saying the planned response, but those personalities are like that, and I think that’s why the producers, when they came to our station, were so excited to make the show. We do have a combination of all these hilarious personalities, and also things like eqiupment breaking down, and the small-town frustrations. So the more the show was going on, the more I was like, “This is the best idea ever for a reality show!” [laughs] There’d be days when hilarious stuff would happen and the [truTV] crew wouldn’t be there, and I’d be like, “Aw, this would be so good.” So it’s honestly less produced than you think. Obviously, there’s the details of getting my microphones on and having camera guys, but they really let us roll and move with our schedules and everything like that.
How was it having additional cameras on you, along with the cameras you were also behind during your newscasts? Was it intrusive, and did it make you feel more self-conscious than you might have been under your regular job circumstances?
I think there were certain times when I was definitely much more self-conscious because every little mistake I’d make, I would then be aware that people were witnessing it, rather than just like “roll with the punches.” So there definitely was an adjustment period. But I think also, because all of us are on-camera people anyway, that adjustment period was a lot faster than for like, a Duck Dynasty or whatever, because we already are on-air personalities.
Would you say that “Breaking Greenville” is a pretty accurate portrayal of small-town local news, or is Greenville unique in the news it covers?
I think there will a lot of things that people can relate to, and I’ve seen a lot of response from other people who work in local news. There already is a [Twitter] hashtag, #smallmarketproblems. So those things definitely exist, but I think we’re unique in that it’s a super-super small town, and there’s such a diverse cast of people. I think the thing about Greenville that’s so interesting is the size of the town. It’s so tiny, and for us to have two news stations is pretty crazy. I think that comes from the history of Greenville. It was a really big town, a booming town 50 years ago, so it’s kind of shrunk, but the two stations are a heritage of that time. So I think that’s pretty cool and unique.
How big is Greenville now?
The town is somewhere between high-20,000 to 30,000 people, but we have a 100-mile radius. So there’s a bunch of small towns where, like, the populations might be like 200 or 2,000.
What sort of stories will be see the news teams cover on “Breaking Greenville?” The premiere has you interviewing a farmer, and there is a stabbing at a local school on a more serious note. Do you cover any major stories, like a hurricane in the delta, for example?
It isn’t really necessarily breaking news, at least not that I covered. But there is a wide range of stories. I think for local news market people, the challenge is always trying to find news where there is no news. And it’s funny, because when I first was there, I was like, “Oh, my job is so easy because I’m in a small market.” But then I realized it’s actually so challenging because you have to make news out of nothing. When you’re a bigger city you have a choice, but when you’re a smaller city you literally have to look at, like, the garbage schedule or the city town hall meeting rundown and be like, “Okay, where is the story here?” So it’s a really great learning experience.
How intense does the rivalry get between WABG and WXVT? Is it more like you are “frenemies,” or does it get cutthroat in tracking down and covering stories?
It always is a friendly rivalry. I think that it’s nice to have the competition because it keeps the fire under you to really stay motivated and challenge yourself. But it never went into the realm of, like, nasty. There’a a lot of showing up at the same story and being like, “Ah, I thought this was my story.” And then you see WXVT there. And just going out and about and being recognized, or not being recognized. Funny things like that.
During the course of “Breaking Greenville” we see your news director mentioning that you need more maturity, and see other people trying to help you along that route by getting you to stop saying “awesome,” or high-fiving interview subjects. Do you think that you did mature over the course of the “Breaking Greenville” production?
I think that I definitely did. I think that the whole show is me trying to [find a] compromise between that bubbly personality that I think is appealing and also the mature reporter who can cover hard stories. That’s something I kind of grapple with over the series. But I’m happy that it happened when it did, because it forced me to really be very self-aware about what my strengths and weaknesses are, and to really grow up. I think some people who are getting started in the business are like afraid to show their mess-ups. But I think that owning your mistakes is a part of growing up, and so I think that the whole experience definitely made me mature, and maybe a little faster than I would have if I wasn’t forced to have all these conversations and to reflect. They ask you to reflect [on the show]. In the end, I think it was really valuable for me because I developed a level of self-awareness of what works in TV at what time, that I’m thankful for in the long term. … I’m going to use the experience I learned in Greenville in my next job, there’s no doubt about it, but I’m just not exactly sure in what capacity yet. I’m keeping my options open, I guess.
Who do you look up to in the news and TV business that you would like to have a career similar to?
I look up to Kelly Ripa, Meredith Vieira, I also really respect Katie Couric, Oprah. Really right now — I’m a 24-year-old, and my ideas change all the time — I really appreciate individuals who are personalities but also are producers and have like a vision and not just talent. I like to be able to see people who I think are really genuine and have a vision for what type of stories they want to cover. And especially for women, I think looking at what Barbara Walters has been able to accomplish, or a Joan Rivers, or Oprah Winfrey, against all of the stereotypes. I just have so much respect for women that were trailblazers.
Breaking Greenville airs on truTV Thursdays at 10:30pm ET beginning Jan. 29.