Behind The Scenes

Beneath the surface is where the cool stuff happens.

The Latin preposition is infra, meaning below, under, and, by extension, out of view. The related word that comes first to mind is infrastructure, a noun whose currency has risen to the level of the title of government departments. The minister of infrastructure is, accordingly, in charge of the highways and sewers and the electricity lines, and all the rest of the technologica that supports the communication and commerce of modern life.

Some of these thoughts bubbled up while watching CBC's coverage of the Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Today, there is a pageant of boats on the Thames and anchor Peter Mansbridge is, in this video, talking via smartphone to James Raffan, who is steering Canada One/Un, a canoe from the Canada Canoe Museum, down the famous river. (Jack the audio on your computer.)

About 9 seconds in you see a briefly frustrated Mansbridge gesture and mouth the words "Just wait!" to a colleague in the control room. And, inadvertently, to us. It's rare to see something like this. Of course, there is a big and complicated operational infrastructure that television viewers never see, a group of producers and switchers, directors, production assistants, engineers and the rest whose work is to keep the illusion in place that technology does not exist between Mansbridge and his viewers. We don't know why Mansbridge pulled the curtain back. A director may have been telling him (via a piece of invisible voice -to-ear communication technology called IFB) to wrap up the interview. Or he might have been told to tell Raffan to wave to the camera, connecting to viewers visually and not just over the phone. Either way, Mansbridge gives us an unplanned glimpse (he surely believed he was not on camera)  into the (to-us) invisible, inaudible communication that occurs behind the scene as he communicates with us.

Those who work behind the scenes in television know that viewers love seeing behind the scenes. Moments after Mansbridge's unplanned glimpse, CBC producers gave us a very planned glimpse behind the scenes of the flotilla extravaganza. Here is the view of a finger and a lever that worked together to raise Tower bridge in a mechanical salute to HRH.

Yes, those who work behind the scenes in television know that viewers love seeing behind the scenes. No, they don't like sharing what happens behind the scenes in television. But, what if they did?

What if viewers could watch not only the surface product, but watch behind the scenes?  At the same time?  There are two stories in any television broadcast: what you see, and what you don't see. They are both fascinating.  There are two screens in every television household, the main monitor and the laptop. Could the main story continue to be fed to the main screen, while the behind-the-scenes story streamed to my computer? Would viewers watch those simultaneously? Or could both stories be fed to my laptop? Could I listen in on the conversations between anchor and control room?

There are starts in this direction. During the last provincial election in Ontario, CP24 set up cameras and microphones in their control room so that viewers could, at times,  be in on their decision making. And during the 2012 Memorial Cup, Sportsnet let us listen in on the conversation between the on-ice referee and the off-ice officials reviewing the status of a contested goal. Both were cool experiments.

Cool because we got to go where we couldn't before.


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