Several months ago, a producer came to me quite concerned that I appeared to be “unconcerned” about a few technical glitches that showed up on-air recently in one or two of our shows. He said, “I’m a perfectionist and these kind of technical errors can’t be allowed to continue”. He wore the word “perfectionist” as a badge of honor. Almost like I should reward him for being so conscientious. I felt two things immediately, neither of which I expressed. The first was, “Boy, are you in the wrong business”. Television is an art – especially the right-brained lighter newscasts we’re producing. No piece of art is ever perfect. Secondly, I felt sad for him. Sad that he will never be truly happy with any show he’ll ever produce.
Clean shows – shows with no technical mistakes – are often shows that took absolutely no risks. The producer, the director, the talent – none of them pushed the limits with “live” TV, stepped out of their comfort zone, took a risk. While “perfect” shows may be “clean”, they are undeniably dull. Any show that perfectly follows the rundown from the lead to the “good-bye” is a missed opportunity. And it’s a sad statement on the industry that so many news and station managers are so hung up on their directors delivering a clean show – especially when viewers are more sophisticated than ever and very forgiving of technical glitches in “live” shows.
I’ve been lucky enough to work at stations and networks that had lots of toys for the producer and director to play with. I’m talking satellite trucks, ENG trucks, chopper, fiber and MPLS feeds, newscam, jib, steadi-cam on set, on and on. And every day, I’d push the limits to what the director and TD could do. (I often would walk into the control room and look in my directors eyes and feel so sorry for what I was about to put him through).
“We can’t go back to back between the satellite truck and the newscam because they’re on the same frame sync, so you need to write 30 seconds of copy in between to allow us to punch the signal into the frame sync.” I’d reply, “OK then, let’s go to the stock exchange cam for a quick 30 second hit on how this affects wall street and then switch to the newscam for additional reaction.”
And I’d hear, “Well, Jim at the stock exchange is on the radio from 5 to 10 minutes after the hour so that won’t work”. And I’d say, “Well, if my timing is correct, Jim will be in a 1-minute package on radio at :08 when we would need to hit him so theoretically he could be free to do our 30-second hit between the sat truck and the newscam. I say we take the risk, because it will play much better in that order on the air and it’ll show we’re all over the story.”
It takes a lot of bargaining and negotiating to be a right brain producer. If your director is a wuss, you’re screwed. You’re also screwed if he’s a daredevil like Maverick in Top Gun. Someone who balances in just a few degrees tilted toward daredevil is what you want.
With grand plans, and fly-by-the-seat-fo-your-pants changes in the control room, a wrong camera take, or a font in the wrong place or a misplaced graphic is bound to happen. Especially when shows are so tightly coded as they are now for automation, “risk” requires turning off the automatic pilot. No risk, no reward. Perhaps for a Delta Airlines captain, the automatic pilot is the way to go. But for a live TV show, any landing is a good one.