by Danielle Abraham
During the first 30 years that Television existed, TV stations and studios were the only sources that had the proper equipment to produce programs and had the funding needed to produce. When the 1970s arrived, portable video equipment changed the scheme of TV production by creating an alternative to studio production. Since the emergence of portable video equipment, the capabilities and advancement of production equipment has continued to increase while the weight, cost, and maintenance demands have decreased, making production much more accessible to the general public.
The Ever Changing Production Environment
Due to this change in production equipment, the rise of cable channels occurred, which created a demand for more producers working on these shows. Instead of there only being one producer like there used to be, there is now a staff of producers each working on different aspects of the show. Although there are many more producers on shows today than there used to be, the size of the crews have shrunk tremendously. According to the textbook This Business of Television, “In today’s world, three jobs become one; the director and videographer are often the same person, and the sound work is usually monitored in the camera” .
A major change that is being noticed more than ever today is the way that programs are distributed. The Internet has become a vital way for producers to stay in business and to send out their work to people across the world. In addition, Internet distribution has allowed people to operate video-on-demand services from their homes and offices, which has led to the creation of hundreds of channels that have been made specifically for the Internet. New Century Television is an example of a production company that offers hundreds of hours of TV programming on the Internet.
Development, Production Planning, and Production
Today more than ever, there has been a great increase in the similarity of shows and concepts. The concept of shows originates from the development phase of creating a show. Often ideas come from observations of other shows that are doing well in the market, or they can come from completely original concepts, but in today’s production environment, many program concepts come from copycat producers who use the same concept as other shows for their own. For example, this winter/spring, CBS has a full and successful line up of a variety of shows. However, part of their line up included a string of shows that are all essentially the same show but with different characters, a different location, and a little bit of humor added here and there. The CSI series, Criminal Minds, and NCIS are all criminal investigative cop shows in which a murder or assault case is being solved. This format works for CBS; they have continuously high ratings for these series even though they are all very similar shows.
Internationally, there has been a major boom in recent months of shows that have been copycatted. Shows like American Idol and The Voice have become shows whose formats have been copied around the world. Over the past few years, American Idol has been transformed into a show that every country now has their own version of. This goes for The Voice too; The Voice originated in Holland in 2010 and since then it has been copied into American TV as well as Portugal, Germany, and even Korea as of this winter .
As production technology and equipment continue to become more advanced, TV studios have been engaging more and more in the use of new and exciting production methods. Also, because of this advancement in technology, producers and directors from the film world have started to venture into the television world because of its evolving attractiveness. With new technology and popular film directors working in television, there comes a great increase to the cost and budget of television production. The pilot of Terra Nova, for example, a sci-fi show that was on FOX, cost close to $20 million because of the special effects it called for, such as the use of dinosaurs as a main aspect to the show. In addition, the show was produced by Steen Spielberg, which made the show even more costly .
On-location shooting is a factor that also has made scripted TV productions soar in costs. Many producers and writers believe that their audiences are attracted to shows that take you away to a foreign, unfamiliar land or to a mysterious jungle. There have been many shows recently that have really taken advantage of the ability to shoot in other countries and on unfamiliar land. These decisions make shows more costly to produce and can sometimes create major problems for networks if the show flops. Terra Nova, The River, and Alcatraz are all recent shows that did not do well at all in the seasons they premiered in, despite the unique setting that they were shot in such as Australia, Hawaii, and the island of Alcatraz. A lot of money was put into these shows in order to film at these spots, but the shows did not do well and some even got cancelled, but this is a risk producers must take in order to stay on top of the production game .
Although there have been experiments with costly shows like Terra Nova and The River recently, reality TV has become and continues to become a truly successful form of TV production during this day in age . This is simply because it is much cheaper to film non-celebrities whether it be in their own homes or on a stage. Brian Stelter of The New York Times supports this by saying, “The shows [reality shows] can cost as little as $200,000 for a half-hour episode, compared with the $1 million or more typical for hour-long scripted shows” . Shows like The Bachelor and The Biggest Loser do not cost very much to produce and yet they yield large audience ratings and audience viewers who are loyal to the shows.
The Future of Television Production
As previously mentioned, the Internet has become a very large force in our society and is dragging television into it’s pull. TV programming is showing up on the Internet at new levels every day. Websites such as HBO GO, Netflix, and Hulu are all formats that are constantly creating new ways to become more easily accessible to their customers. These sites are also beginning to produce their own shows in order to create loyal customers and attract new ones too. They are also doing this so that they can gain revenue on their own shows and not just shows bought from networks. In February, Netflix launched its own original series called Lilyhammer which was available to watch on Netflix’s website. Also, CBS has recently been in talks with Netflix about producing a show for them to have only on their website. By creating this partnership, CBS would be making extra dollars and would be expanding their reach across the Internet by having their name on a Netflix show, and Netflix would have the advantage of having a successful studio produce their show .
Just this January, Hulu announced that it would be producing its own original series called Battleground in order to expand its name and content across the Internet . The creation of TV shows by online video service sites is a completely new occurrence in the world of production today. It was only a few years ago that these sites were just showing up on the Internet. The idea of these services creating their own programming is exciting for them, however, this could cause major problems for network TV as their audiences might start only watch online videos created by these sites. Will Netflix and Hulu original programming become so popular they could damage the success of the “television” industry? Or will these sites fail at these experiments, giving way to networks and cable TV to take the lead away from the Internet? Only time will tell…
1. Howard J. Blumenthal and Oliver R. Goodenough, The Business of Television, 2006.