by William Sharp III
Television Production is a sector of the TV industry that seems to have undergone a vast amount of change in the past few years. Technologically, it appears different than it did just five years ago. The distribution is also dramatically changed, which prompts changes in the development and production planning sectors. However, with all this change, a lot in Television Production has stayed the same.
In this article, we’ re going to cover the steps to creating two television shows. Obviously, it’s impossible to go too in depth, considering the vast disparity between the different types of shows that are produced. There are unscripted reality shows, procedural dramas, sitcoms, daily news shows, news magazine shows, sports shows, and many, many more. I’m going to cover an unscripted reality show as well as a daily news show to demonstrate the disparity between producing an in-studio show as well as a field production.
In addition to that, we’re going to cover the changes in the Production industry, and highlight anything that’s characteristic of this year.
The process of creating a show starts well before anyone even turns on a camera. Most shows start by getting pitched to a network by the show’s producers. The pitch generally includes a written plan as well as an oral presentation, as well as possibly video financed and created by the producer. If the network likes the show, they green light it, and order a certain number of episodes.
For a daily news show, production for each episode might start a few days in advance. Reporter features are assembled and special stories are planned. The main production for the show takes place on the day of the show. Producers come in to the station in the early morning, and begin writing the show. They pull together news from various national and international sources, as well as local sources. Reporters who are doing day-of stories start early in the morning, interviewing sources and shooting video to be incorporated into their packages. When they get closer to show time, the video is loaded into a server, which is hooked, along with a multitude of other video sources (including cameras, graphics generators, and satellite feeds), into a computer-controlled video switcher. The show is set up on a strict time limit, because mostly everything at many news stations is programmed in before the show even begins. This eliminates the need for operators on much of the equipment. Generally, a show can be run with just the director and producer in the control room, and just talent and camera operators on the floor. The show is distributed over the air live and later on the Internet, usually exclusively on the station’s website.
For an out of studio show, it’s totally different. First of all, episodes take far longer to produce. Even South Park, which has literally the tightest timeline in all of scripted television, takes six days to produce an episode. I’m going to be charting the production of one episode of a show on TLC International called “Mission Menu”. It is an unscripted reality show that covers a team of international chefs, who create new menus for failing restaurants. Each episode starts with research. Researchers working on the show search for interesting restaurants that may not be doing as well as they have the potential to do, call them, and gauge their level of interest. If the restaurants were interested, an assistant producer would go to the restaurant, and shoot an audition video. The videos are then cut down by an assistant editor until they include only the most relevant and emotional parts. These videos are then reviewed by a producer, and the producer chooses whether to feature a restaurant on the show. The whole process, from research to confirmation, takes about two weeks.
When it’s time to actually shoot the episode, they do a few days of shooting. Generally, they will shoot one day at the restaurant before the new menu is created, one day in the field with an expert on that type of cuisine, two days in the kitchen working out new recipes, another day at the restaurant teaching the new recipes to the owner and staff, and finally they will shoot the grand re-opening, where the new menu is put to the test of the public. All in all, that’s six days of shooting, and they’re never consecutive. Overall it takes about three weeks for principle photography.
Following principle photography, they move into post-production. Usually post begins as soon as the first day of shooting is wrapped, the video is ingested into the production company’s central server, and the editors start work on it immediately. An assistant editor organizes the shots, then the project is handed over to the principle editor, who assembles the show, polishes it, and finalizes it, it is finished, and then given to the network. Post-production takes generally a few weeks, however it’s important to note that it happens concurrently to production, so it doesn’t add too much time to the overall production.
Changes in the Industry
Production is one facet of the television industry that’s changed almost more than any other in recent years. The most dramatic change has been in video standards, and the equipment used to capture it. In 2005, according to This Business of Television, “the standard for many productions was either Sony’s DVCAM or Panasonic’s DVPro format.” Both of those are high quality standard definition formats. Another thing they both have in common is that neither of them are the standard anymore. The large majority of productions shoot in high definition, either Sony’s XDCAM format, Panasonic’s DVCPro format, or another format such as AVCHD.
The equipment used has continued to evolve, as it has in the past. It’s gotten smaller, cheaper, and higher quality.
- Shepherd, Chris. CNY Central. Personal Communication
- Fogarty, Kevin. Bray Entertainment. Personal Communication
- Balton, Ryan. ESPN. Personal Communication
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