Guest Commentary: High-Definition Production Becomes New Standard

Oct 28, 2007  •  Post A Comment

There’s been a lot of buzz about the launch of high-definition channels over the past several months, and programmers—both network and cable—are ramping up their HD productions like never before.
All of this is great news for viewers, but it’s also very good news for the production community.
Business is booming now that many networks require their new shows to be shot in HD. Also, many popular continuing shows on both network and cable television have made the switch to HD.
For example, one of the shows my company produces, Spike TV’s “Ultimate Fighter,” recently required us to shoot in HD after being produced for six seasons in standard definition.
We have had a similar situation with “American Chopper” on TLC, which is light-years from the original SD production. “American Chopper” fans are constantly writing in about the intricate details and spectacular paint jobs on the choppers that they never saw in SD.
The trend toward HD has officially taken hold, which is evident as networks such as Discovery Channel and TLC begin simulcasting their networks in HD.
But it isn’t just the rich, real-life image quality of HD that has won converts and led us down this path. Until fairly recently, in fact, the mere cost of HD cameras and production for us in the industry made the whole enterprise seem unlikely to ever go mainstream. With HD’s future still uncertain, no one was willing to make the necessary investment to tape in HD. That was all about to change, of course, and relatively quickly, thanks to some incredible technical advancements.
HD cameras have become more affordable, but also a lot smaller and adaptable for shooting in a variety of environments. The original HD cameras were massive, cumbersome and expensive. They were reserved for high-end sporting and entertainment events and sweeping nature documentaries.
Enter the HDX 900 and similar cameras, which literally opened up a whole world of possibilities for HD. User-friendly, lightweight but rugged and sensitive to a multitude of lighting situations, these cameras lend themselves to the type of on-the-fly shooting that many of today’s popular TV shows require.
Look at series like Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs”—there’s no way we could have shot that series in HD with the larger cameras.
Now we can get “in the action” and not worry quite as much if one of our cameras gets some slime and grime on it. While these cameras are not cheap, they cost considerably less than their predecessors.
The move to HD isn’t only an American phenomenon. The U.K. has seen more HD channels launch on Sky, as well as on cable, and demand for productions shot in HD is way up. We recently sold and are producing in HD the series “The Real Exorcist” for Virgin 1, starring prolific exorcist Rev. Bob Larson. For such a spectacularly unsettling experience as an exorcism, we need a look that is rich and moody, atmospheric and haunting. HD has allowed us to capture a dynamic feel that fits the subject matter perfectly.
HDTV has brought the viewer closer to the programming than ever before, and there’s no turning back. If it hasn’t happened to you already, it will. Once you get used to the leap up in terms of visual and audio quality, it’s difficult to watch a favorite show in standard definition.
The broadcast and cable networks are getting the message loud and clear, and no one in the production industry is saying their new series needs to be produced in SD.
The result is a boom in business for production companies here in Hollywood and around the country. It hasn’t been this good since we switched from black-and-white to color.
Thanks to the launch of a host of HD services, companies like ours are not only getting more business and thriving, but we’re relishing the opportunity to produce some of our best work. In fact, I think the HD revolution is one in which everyone wins—production companies, cable and satellite operators and, above all, the viewers.
Craig Piligian is the creator and executive producer of “American Chopper,” “American Hot Rod,” “Dirty Jobs” and “Eco Town” for Discovery Networks. He also is executive producing “Ghost Hunters” for Sci Fi Channel and “Ultimate Fighter” for Spike.

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