A tale of three tapes

Here’s a good example of how TV is changing.

I got an email from the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric asking me to tape one of those “free speech” segments they’ve been airing. I wrote a script and went back and forth on it a bit. I mentioned Dan Rather. That made someone nervous. Then they said it was OK. And so I included him in my final script — after another clearance. And I recorded it. I’m not sure, given the Rather reference, whether it will ever air. I’ll let you know.

From a media perspective, what hit me was the experience of taping the segment. I’ve done many things like this before, but this time, I counted how many people were involved in getting me on tape: seven producers, camera people, sound people, teleprompter people — plus God know how many more producers and editors who took it then.

At home, I took the exact same script and with some photos to illustrate my points and produced the segment alone, in my den, on two programs: iMovie and VideoCue, a Mac competitor to Visual Communicator, which gives you a teleprompter and the ability to drag-and-drop graphics, lower thirds, photos, audio, or video onto your script so the’re all recorded along with you (no need for editing). I’ve used these tools before and had to brush up on them anyway for my CUNY class. They make it incredibly easy to make TV. Will my segments look at good as CBS’? Well, that depends on your definition of good but probably not. Still, the thoughts and the talking head spewing them were exactly the same.

So compare: probably a dozen people involved in my little 1:30 at CBS; one person at Buzzmachine World Headquarters. Networks will collapse from their bloat.

Then this week, ABCNews.com emailed asking me to do a 1:30 commentary about changing TV for them. They wanted me to come into the studio. No, I said, let’s not just talk about changing TV, let’s change it. I wanted to record the segment at Buzzmachine HQ. The producer was nervous and didn’t think he bosses would buy it, but they did. I recorded my script and FTPed the video to them. They then proceeded to produce the bejesus out of it with dancing graphics and flying Jarvises, to distract from my bad accoustics (and haircut), no doubt. Here‘s the final product.

And then last Friday, Amanda Congdon and crew came through Jersey to my HQ to tape a vlog for Amanda’s across-the-country video tour. She came to the door with here three friends bearing cameras trailing behind, Boswelling her every move. Then they set up in the den with lights, a decent mic, an HD camera set to focus on Amanda and me on the couch in front of the books that make me look smart, and with two of them roaming with two more video cameras and a third shooting stills. It was a three-camera shoot! Cable networks and sitcoms don’t use three-camera shoots anymore. On top of that, it was in HDTV. Amanda’s friend Mario said the whole set up cost something like $2 grand. Compare this, again, with the big networks. And compare the quality of their work, instead of mine, with the big guys. They shot 45 minutes of my blather on three tapes — poor Chuck Olsen had to edit it — and at the end, they brought in my kids, Jake and Julia, for their moment in the video spotlight. (My wife, for no earthly reason, doesn’t like cameras and Chuck edited out the family cat). It was a hoot. The first segment is here; I’m so long-winded, I get a second one here.

In the second segment, Amanda and I got into a tussle over TV. I said she — and Rocketboom and Ze Frank and Chuck Olsen and countless new colleagues — were making the new television. She said she didn’t want her stuff called TV; she said it’s something new, it’s a video blog. I argued, in turn, that the definition of TV is up for grabs and that she should grab it: Don’t let the big, old guys define and own TV. New tools, technology, and talent are opening TV up to a million new creators who are reinventing TV itself. And it’s about time.