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TV techniques diverge from filmmaking and stage productions

Photo caption: Drive-in moves were a big success in the 1950s and early 1960s but have virtually disappeared today.

Source: National Archives

There were 425 full-time and part-time stagehands working for NBC-TV alone in 1953.  These technical workers helped the network produce some 135 television shows a year, as well as more than 50 commercials.

One show that was a major success in the early days was The Hit Parade, a program with nine separate sets of three-minute numbers each.  IA members working this show needed split-second timing, since the pace and movement of props, scenery and lighting was rapid-fire.  As the Chimes noted: “There are no retakes on TV.”

This was the overriding characteristic of television in its formative years, and IA members devised all kinds of ingenious ways to make it work.  Costumers and wardrobe assistants hit upon a unique way to effect costume changes despite tiny studio stages and the demands of continuous live action: actors wore two or three outfits at the same time and shed them as they moved from scene to scene.

Lighting technicians learned to use lighting to simulate aging on actor’s faces, or to lead viewers from scene to scene through the use of lighting cues on the various parts of a single set.  Lighting was especially critical to the re-creation of dramatic effects, such as storms and other weather changes.  Boom operators had to learn to capture sound without getting in the picture, knowing they had only one chance to do it.

But it was apparent early that the techniques applied to movie-making or the legitimate stage were not necessarily appropriate for television.  For example, close-ups - as opposed to long, wide shots - became key ingredients of a TV play, and lighting technicians, cameramen and other skilled personnel who learned to execute these tight shots were in great demand.

Cameramen and boom operators worked nimbly within tight confines.  Each camera contained several lenses so that the camera operator could switch focal lengths - close-up, medium, long - as the director demanded.  Shots were blocked out in advance, but adjustments were made constantly throughout a show.

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