From time to time we get requests on the COW for “Specs for Delivering a TV Show.” Used to be it was quite simple and pretty standard from network to network. Black at the head of the tape, 30 seconds of Bars, Slate and then start the show at 01:00:00:00. Today, the honest truth is that with over 200 broadcast outlets in the U.S. alone, there just is no longer a generalized “spec for a TV Show.
Get “The Book.”
Each network and broadcaster has a "Producer's Handbook" or a "Technical Specifications Handbook." I have learned that no two networks or stations are alike. The PBS Red Book is a great place to start, but even all the PBS Stations don't follow that to the letter and there are some variations there.
One network I deliver to has a 30 page Technical specifications document of which 8 pages are dedicated to the HD and SD Masters received. Another network has a 120 page Producer Handbook with 20 pages dedicated to everything regarding capture to graphics to final mastering.
We currently deliver to four different networks and each has a different requirement for everything on the tape. Black Start, Bars Start, Bars Length, Tone level, Slate Start, Slate Length, Show Start TC, Break Length, Show Running Time, Segment Running time, Channel 1 and 2 audio, Channel 3 and 4 audio, Bug / Graphic placement, Promo Graphic placement, Format for delivery and the list goes on and on. One even requires a Slate after each commercial break!
Going by a "general rule of thumb" with your series without knowing the specifics of the station or network you're delivering to is just going to increase the work you're doing to do. You can go ahead, edit your show and set everything up for generalized delivery now and then you'll just have to go back into the timeline and tweak everything again for the specific delivery. For my time, I only want to do this once.
We're going through this right now with a series that was originally broadcast overseas. It's being re-purposed for regional PBS stations and all I know for certain is the new running time will add approx. 4:30 to each episode. But we have not started tweaking any of the shows yet because I do not have any other particulars yet for the Masters. What format? What is the four channel audio mix? What are the graphic placement requirements? And I have about a dozen more questions I’ve submitted to the stations while I wait to receive their document. Once we know that, we'll move forward but we have plenty of other work that needs to be done on other projects before they come in the office.
It’s the Slate Stupid.
You would think the Slate at the beginning of a show would be simple. Put the basic information up there like show title, run time, audio assignments and you’re done. Wrong.
Again, this differs depending on the station. Each has a sample slate in their technical guidelines and you MUST follow these guidelines. Especially the order in which all the information appears on the screen. An incorrect slate will result in a failed QC report and you'll have to re-run the show.
With some networks they want the Series Name first, others want the Episode Title first. Some want the Audio information before the Master number, others want the Master Number first, then the Episode Number, then the Show Title, then the Series title. It's all standardized per network, station and you just can't make any generalized assumptions anymore with over 200 broadcast outlets out there today.
Remember these QC folks and Engineers are reviewing potentially thousands of shows per year so they want to see the same thing on every slate and not go looking for the information.
We’re going Worldwide!
One last element to touch on here is the “Clean” or “Textless” version of the episodes. Almost all national series are required to deliver a version of the episode that has all or almost all of the on screen graphics removed so it can re-purposed with local language graphics later for international distribution.
One more time, what is required on this textless master is completely spelled out in the documents you get from each network. For all the shows we have delivered, Full and Textless shows are always delivered on separate Masters.
"Textless" also varies from network to network. With some it just means the lower thirds that are added to the show. With others it means ALL show graphics are removed so they can be replaced with language specific graphics at a later date.
And there's my experience with “TV Specs!" Following general guidelines isn't going to work. Go to each station you work with, and Read The Book. Doing your homework means you'll only need to do the work once.