A. Key Production Roles

Although viewers often come to associate programmes with particular performers, a great many people are involved in the making of a TV programme. Television production processes vary considerably across different institutions, systems, and programme types. In general, the central figure is the producer, who develops the programme concept, puts together a budget, supervises planning, and approves the final edited version of the programme. Whereas the authors of novels and the directors of films often become celebrities in their own right, many important TV producers remain unknown outside the industry.

In TV, the director is responsible for executing production, and consulting with various technical and creative staff about how the programme will look and sound. Although some programmes are written by a single author, many are scripted by a committee process. US sitcoms such as Roseanne employ large teams of writers.

An increasingly important function within TV is that of the researcher, who helps to develop ideas for use within a programme, and whose work often overlaps with that of a writer. A job as researcher is now a common entry-point for newcomers to the TV industry.

Other key roles in TV production include the set designer, lighting director, sound engineer, make-up artist, and, in studio production, the floor manager, who acts as the director’s eyes and ears on set, and who passes on cues to presenters and other participants from the director.

B. Studio Recording

In the early days of TV, much production was live, and took place in the studio. Today, fewer programmes are transmitted live, because TV recording allows mistakes to be edited out. The news is the main category of programme that continues to be transmitted live (though interspersed with recorded reports). In fact, although TV news has the appearance of a spontaneous response to events, much of the content of a daily bulletin is planned in advance, according to a news diary. Public relations staff keep editors, producers, and journalists informed about up-and-coming events, and there is a strong reliance on scheduled political events, such as the release of unemployment figures. At joint editorial meetings, senior figures decide which of the day’s events deserve most attention, while maintaining the flexibility to make way for some unexpected, breaking news.

In studio production of a whole range of TV programmes, whether live or recorded, the control room is the hub of the process. Here, key personnel sit before a tinted screen, looking out on to the studio. Below the screen is a bank of monitors, which show the director and colleagues what images are available on the different studio cameras (usually three), and from other sources, such as an outside broadcast link (called a remote in the United States), titles and graphics generators, and pre-recorded film and video. A master monitor displays what is being transmitted or recorded at any one point.

With the director, who attempts to control the process from a central seat, the following people will also be in the control room: an assistant director, a vision mixer (or switcher), who controls the fading, mixing, and switching of images, and an audio engineer, responsible for checking sound levels. The control room communicates with the studio floor via a voice-link over headphones and earphones. The presenter must be able to listen to the control-room talk, and speak to the audience at the same time.

C. Location Shooting

Increasingly, however, as video cameras have become lighter and more mobile, TV filming is taking place on location. Documentaries, sport, and news reports have always relied on outside locations, but even traditionally studio-bound genres such as soaps and sitcoms use location shooting more and more. News journalists in distant locations are now expected to combine technical knowledge with reporting skills. As audiences and editors expect news to be as immediate as possible, reporters use an array of technical devices, such as satellite phones, to transmit compressed video signals directly back to the news operation.

D. Budgeting and Scheduling

However, descriptions of the mechanics of making a TV programme do not convey adequately the complexity of TV production. Because TV is a business, many finance and marketing decisions have to be made and a great deal of power lies with those who allocate budget resources. Within a large corporation such as the BBC, this might be the head of a particular programme department, such as drama or current affairs. Elsewhere, the job might fall to a commissioning editor, or an executive producer, who decides which of the various programme ideas submitted by independent producers are worthy of support.

Even when they are allocated a budget, however, programme-makers have to rely on schedulers to decide when the programme will be shown. Scheduling an innovative new show that needs time to gain an audience against an established, top-rating favourite might ruin the new programme’s chances of survival.

The day is divided by programmers into various time-slots, according to the size of audience that might be considered possible, and the type of viewer they may get. The main categories are daytime, night-time, and prime time, the last of which is defined in the United States as running from 7 p.m. until about 11 p.m. Advertising rates become much higher during this period, and are based on a computation of the likely audience for the particular programme. In the intensely competitive American prime-time market, many series are cancelled during or after their first season, if they are considered not to be attracting sufficient viewers.

As well as scheduling, marketing and promotion are vital factors in creating awareness among the audience about the programme on offer. This can take the form of billboard advertising, or of persuading the writers of newspaper TV preview pages that a particular programme is worthy of special mention. For this reason, it is difficult to argue that the audience determines what is shown on TV. Although in general, commercial TV has to keep popular shows, and scrap unpopular ones, decisions about scheduling, marketing, and budgeting are made on the basis of what TV executives think the audience will like. These people’s images of what audiences want have a great influence on what becomes popular.

Because it is expensive to establish a new programme, TV relies on the series and the serial to form continuity between programmes. The series is a finite number of shows, (often 13) to fill a season of scheduling. A successful series will return each year, saving the broadcaster vast amounts of money in developing new programme ideas. The serial, on the other hand, is continuous; and the most famous TV serials are soaps (originally called soap operas, a term of mild abuse for melodramatic radio plays sponsored by soap companies). The British soap Coronation Street, set in Salford, near Manchester in northern England, has been running since 1960, and still regularly achieves the top rating on British TV. The internationally popular Latin American telenovelas, produced mainly in Brazil and Mexico, share the continuity of soaps, but in fact are usually series of about 100 episodes.