The History of TV Production

How has production for television changed over time? From early methods for recording and transmitting live television, through to single camera and digital shooting, the evolution of television production has involved a lot of change, but also a fair bit of continuity. The role of the camera crew, and the use of specific techniques like multi camera shooting, have remained relatively static, although the tools used to achieve these effects have become more sophisticated.

Early History

The origins of television involved testing and refining ways of capturing and transmitting broadcast signals, as well as syncing these to sound; overlaps with radio enabled a system for producing and transmitting live events, and for recording scripted programs. While tests were run in the 1920s and 1930s, television began to take off as a fully fledged medium in the 1940s and 1950s. Programming during this period was either live, and filmed and broadcast simultaneously, or filmed and then converted for transmission to televisions.

A live television production studio typically involved using soundstages with multiple cameras, and a camera crew working together to ensure that lighting and sound levels remained consistent. New formats like the television sitcom, by comparison, took the approach of recording live in front of audiences on sound stages using multiple 35mm cameras to capture action, before editing it together for distribution. However, the relatively low scanning quality of black and white and other early televisions typically resulted in a very low definition image.

As television sets became more sophisticated in the 1960s, colour production could be employed, primarily as a way of showcasing major events, and then as a standard part of everyday scheduling. Other techniques that dominated television production during this period included 16mm camera recording for documentaries and television news, as well as experimentation with single camera recording for series and films.

While still limited in comparison to film shooting for time and the transmission quality of a finished product, television producers by the 1980s were able to experiment with single camera shooting, elaborate post-production editing, computer graphics, and the emulation of film ‘looks’ through careful staging of lighting, camera movement, and colour. CGI effects and the use of digital editing suites also made it easier to distinguish the aesthetics of individual programmes and channels.

By the 1990s, the maturation of cable and satellite television, and the wide commercial availability of video cameras meant that a wide range of different production techniques could be used in television production, from film quality drama series to very low budget video camera recording. The development of HD televisions and digital recording cameras then helped to increase the options for quality production available to television crews.

The multiple platforms and distribution markets for television programming enabled by DVD and internet streaming in the 2000s further diversified how production could include low budget, multiple camera and handheld shooting, as well as cinematic effects and CGI. Today, television production can be made cost effective through digital cameras and rapid editing, but can also challenge cinema in terms of the quality of its cinematography, sound, and editing.