Thursday, June 11, 2009

In which we Engineer Victory from Defeat

We're going to take the dramatic license of compressing real time into story time. The incidents are mainly true, but not the implied timeline.

Keith is, dare I say it, actually twinkling one night. It seems that the Engineering Department has completed its due diligence, scheduling, solicitation of approved overtime, whatever fetlock-scratching was required and the rumored installation of the new electronic whizzbangery is scheduled for next week! With any luck, it will all be in by next week's show! Then we can do some Stuff! Hoot toot!

Well, all righty then; and although I can't swear to it I'm sure we rose to the occasion and wrote some bit that required some heinously complicated videographical nonsense for the punch line. So it was of course wholly to be expected that when we arrived for that night's Fun with Millie, he was about to kick Wags, the OBPP halfway from New Circle Road to East Kuala Lumpor. It seemed that the Engineering Department had encountered some Unforseen Issues in the installation of said new electronic whizzbangery.

And the installation was behind schedule.

And all of the old electronic whizzbangery was disconnected, with great gaping holes in the equipment racks where some devices formerly lived; and ripped-up wires hanging over the faces of the other devices.

So we were limited to the regular pedestal cameras tonight, and to regular old cuts -- we could have a fade to and from black, but nothing that involved going from one buss to another, because the X buss was also disconnected. So no Fun with Chromakey.

And he wasn't so sure that we could have supered titles or graphics, so no run-on crawls.

And no minicamera, either. It seems that the Engineering Department hadn't gotten around to hooking up the minicamera in the studio for us.

Because even as we spoke, the Engineering Department was in the dreaded Back Room, with all of the electronic whizzbangery spread out all over the place and the floor pulled, trying to figure out what the problems were and trying to get the system back up, online and functional for the Sunday public affairs show.

And he was under orders to "keep that show's rowdiness down and not disturb them" because they had to get the Back Room working in less than twelve hours, and frankly this little throwaway show wasn't worth jeopardizing the rest of the studio's operations over.

Well, all righty then. I note that the door is open, and I also note that -- hello! -- the A-Team studio crew is back, up to their pupkuses Laocoon-like in electronica and wiring. Now, I really am sympathetic to the problem -- deadlines is deadlines and not to be trifled with, and M's MT really is a throwaway show in the Grand Scheme of Things, and if you've been working away at installing many racksfull of electronic gear for any application it's not going to work the First Time, or the Second Time, and it is No Fun at any time, and you are going to wind up Starting All Over on Over Time, and it's just about certain that you're going to be pulling an All-Hands Allnighter at the end of the project, and you'll Get it Done (won't be pretty and will take some Junior Woodchuck the better part of two weeks at least to clean up whatever it is you did that finally got it Working, and you can bet your rosy hinder that the newest one of our guys will be the Junior Woodchuck anointed to take on that pleasant task In Addition To and at No Extra Pay). I am deeply and truly sympathetic to the problem, with a bushel and a peck of empathy thrown in for good measure. And I also know that M's MT is a real, regularly scheduled WLEX broadcast program that happens to making some kind of modest profit for the station thanks to a reliably watching audience that is going to be reliably watching in about an hour, and is therefore entitled to a show that has a certain minimum expected production support. So I hunker down with the Director o Engineering, who is in fact down in the floor and understandably not in the happiest of moods right about now.

Basically, the pitch is that we're known within the station as being a scripted program; the script was submitted properly, vetted and approved for certain camera n production gags; the Talent praise be unto her has rehearsed and prepared the show around the approved camera n production gags; the Talent n staff have regularly demonstrated collective team playery for good ol' WLEX; good ol' Larry would probly prefer not to refund paid advertising fees to the snazzy surplus store owing to a precipitous decline in viewership caused by the unfunny show we seem to be about to air; so what minimum electronica could we get back by air time, while otherwise not affecting the debugging and rebuilding?

D o E makes makes and once again for good measure makes the point that he really can't spare anybody or anything, is doing us a favor by even acknowledging our existence (of course I'm hunkered down right on the floor panel he wants to pull up next, and he knows it and I know it) -- and then relaxes a millimeter and says that he might spare one guy for five minutes. Because whether he likes the show or not, and don't think for a minute that I might like your show because I don't, it is a WLEX show and they shouldn't have made it impossible for us to do the kind of show that we do.

Well, if we can get the minicamera and maybe get the character generator to properly superimposed over the live image, we can fake the rest.

This, it seems, is possible -- possible, mind you, and he sends off -- heh -- our A-Team Director to accommodate us, remarking that ya know, the minicam doesn't really cut in properly with the studio pedestals and maybe while they're at it and as long as they've got everything torn up they might work on that next week, we might see some improvement, not promising anything now. Promises of buying a beer are exchanged and forgotten while the minicam is set up, Dougie looming over the operation just to make sure he understands how it's set up tonight so he knows what's different from usual -- Dougie's about twice the size of our A-Team guy normally, and is now trying to inflate like a puffer fish for maximum intimidation.

All this is fine n dandy, and an excellent manifestation of interpersonal skills I normally choose to not manifest at all, preferring to favor the Dangerous Angry Artiste persona -- but we have to rip up a segment now and come up with something new, and set up for the show which is going live in twenty minutes or so, and walk Barb n Keith through whatever this new segment is going to be. So Keith and I go through the script to see how we're going to do this. My habit is to paginate each segment separately, because Keith will hand out segments to certain of his team for a particular task -- usually the roving camera segments, or the chroma segments. Nobody gets a full script but Keith and audio, although Dougie has been known to pilfer Keith's script from time to time. So we're taking each segment and reordering the show sequence on the fly, because the fiendish chroma sequence of course was the open.

In a few minutes, we've got a new rundown that looks like it will hang flow together, with mail in its accustomed place. Don't know if it will make any sense for the movie we're showing that night, but that hasn't been a priority for a while. But we still have either Sequence Two or Sequence Three that basically doesn't exist any more, and we don't have any bright ideas about what to do to fill that dead air.

Barb has an idea. She tells Keith that she wants Dougie and the minicam, and a hand mic, and she'll do the rest. Trust her -- she's an actress. Mmm-kay; we got nothing else, and we're out of time -- once the show starts, we have learned that we have to go with it, we can't stop to fix or discuss anything. So we get through the open more or less intact; first position is a Millie sit-n-spiel; and that bump she tells Dougie to get ready with the minicam and Richie, who has graduated to floor manager, to just stay ahead of her and open doors.

And we're on the air. Barb announces that tonight we have a real treat: we get to go on a field trip to a Real Teevee Studio where we're going to see Real Teevee Guys doing Real Teevee Stuff. And off she charges for the studio door, Richie sprinting ahead of her. She marches into the control room, introduces Keith and berates him for hiding behind his Big Desk all these weeks, introduces our Audio Guy and Switcher Guy of the week, introduces Terry our Fake Engineer -- and then tells the camera that now we're going to meet the Real Engineers, and marches into the Back Room.

Of course, this is the time when the Real Engineers have chosen to take a coffee break, so bam! through the door comes Barb in full Millie flight, Dougie hot on her trail, and Barb triumphantly announcing "And here are Real Engineers doing Real Engineering Stuff, whatever it is that Real Engineers do. And you are?" she asks, thrusting her microphone into the phiz of the D o E, who is spluttering What what what what are you people doing? Since we get to see the On-Air feed in the studio, we note that Keith has helpfully put a graphic up: Real TV Engineers. Millie is continuing, "And how long have you been doing whatever it is that you do?" The D o E manages to get out "Don't you have a commercial to cut to, or something?" Millie takes the cue and gushes that she just noticed that Real TV Engineers shop at our title sponsor surplus store, where they get their -- and Keith punches in the commerical, that hot-starts with the immortal lede "Snazzy Duck-Head Jeans ..."

We're all pretty helpless with laughter by this point, while our pal the D o E is shaking his finger in Keith's face "Don't you -- ever -- do that again!" Except that his authority is a little undercut by his guys' breaking up; one of the A-Team takes the opportunity to remark that, well, we got them good; and besides, it was pretty funny. So the D o E thinks about it, resummons his dignity, and repeats: "Like I said -- don't you ever do that again -- tonight!" Then he grins marginally and throws us out of the Back Room.

After we wrap for the night, I ask Keith if I need to come in on Monday and smooth things over. He's not worried; and it was worth it to see their expressions on camera when Millie burst into the room. Then he hands me next week's cinematic masterpiece and says, "I don't know about this one -- it's pretty bad." I look at the tape on the back of the cassette -- The Creeping Terror, it sez -- and say, "I dunno. How bad could it be?"


  1. I remember that The Creeping Terror was the first show where I first discovered that WLEX would run a promo for the show Saturday mornings... early Saturday mornings. I remember it because a.) I had been fascinated with seeing the movie ever after reading about it in the Golden Turkey Awards, and b.) I had actually fallen asleep before the previews the week before and was excited to learn that that night's movie was one of the worst of all time. The show HAD to be good.

    I wasn't disappointed.

    I'll assume that WLEX just had the promo on a certain rotation and they weren't actually soliciting kids who were getting ready for Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends to stay up til the late night hours. (This is just an example... WLEX never did run that Spider-Man show, grumble.)

  2. We had no idea when they scheduled the promos. We'd be sitting around the living room, banging away on the show or something, and -- "Hey! Was that our promo?" "Nah, couldn't be."

    We made a game out of the promos -- a "Let's see if they run THIS one!" contest. For my money, the best promos were the Mr. T promo for SSSSS (Monsterpiece Theatre! You better watch it, fool!), and whichever one Barb said "Don't watch the movie. Watch me (Watch you-know-who's you-know what you-know when".

  3. Ah - my Keithie is always twinkling!!

  4. Soon we come to the part where he glowers. And he was better about it than I was.