An Award Winning Producer’s Take on a “Hairy” Situation.
A Producer’s Take on a “Hairy” Situation.
The first mistake almost certainly was made bythe Bakersfield station, which lost the audio during their break, after doing an audio check. Usually when a station is on commercial break, the station sends no audio, only silence down the IFB line. Thus, no one at either the station or in NY could know that the audio was dropped. Plus, it’s very unusual for the audio to be dropped after the audio check is completed. Most commonly, audio problems would be discovered and fixed when the station was doing the audio check. So could this have happened to NBN? The answer is yes and no. NBN producers are almost always in telephone contact with the producer at the TV station. Even when local producers tell me they are putting the phone down, I keep the producer phone to my ear because generally the phone picks up the sound from the on-air speakers in the local station’s control room. I might hear a few seconds of music, for instance, indicating that the station is coming out of break and back live, so I can warn the talent that we are going live.
If I had heard through the producer phone line the anchors saying ‘hello, Harry,’ I certainly would have told him to open his eyes and to wave or cup his ear. But I really think I would have already have told him to open his eyes and look at the camera sometime between the end of the of the audio check and the time I felt that their break would be over, just as I would tell them to put away their cell phone. I would have been really nervous and fretting when I saw him with his eyes closed on the bird, and I like to think I would have said something like, ‘Harry, would you look at the camera and put on a big smile for Bakersfield?’
So who’s to blame for this epic SMT fumble? The station that dropped the audio? The unaware producer? The tired talent? Everyone? Well, PTA may have done every thing properly, and it’s just something that, though extremely rare and unlucky, can happen when you do live TV. I can certainly see scenarios that any SMT producer could have been completely blind-sided just the way the NY producer was but I think NBN producers would have had a better chance at having it not look so bad by:
- Being on the producer line with the station producer.
- Even if the producer said he/she was putting the phone down, we might expect him/her to give us 60-second and 30-second cues. Certainly at that point, any producer would ask the talent to look sharp and face the camera. If the station producer did not give us time cues, I think we would be getting nervous because it would feel like the break was getting long and nearing its end. That nervousness would again lead us to tell the talent to open his eyes.
- Listening to the background noise on the producer line to hear the control room speakers to know what’s going on independently of what is coming down the IFB line. By doing that, we might have heard the music intro and certainly would have heard the anchor chatter indicating our talent was on air with his eyes closed so we could tell him.
- Not letting the talent doing anything inappropriate when the picture is live on the satellite.
NYC NBN Producer Dan Conboy chimed in as well with his take on the SMT calamity…“As the producer we always tell the talent before we drop the slate that they are going live on the bird for all to see. That way they know to be alert — not slouch, eat, pick their nose, or in this case catch some z’s. Obviously we have no way of knowing if this producer did that or not, and if Harry just decided to close his eyes anyway. But anytime the talent’s shot is going live on satellite we always tell them right before dropping the slate.”