Strictly successful


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It has been hard not to spend most of my time thinking about the BBC recently.
While it may be the very epitome of the public service broadcasting ethos, it is bizarre to watch one BBC programme unleash invective on another BBC programme, lashing people who probably buy each other coffee on a daily basis. How did John Humphreys feel going to work that Saturday morning, knowing that he was going to have to give the toughest of his tough interviews to a hapless bloke who was nonetheless his boss.
It all started a year ago when the Newsnight editor got very enthusiastic about a story, then inexplicably dropped it. When we find out why – if we find out – then we may go some way to understanding this whole nasty business. But there is no doubt that, even though they could reasonably point out that they are currently completely rudderless, there were some journalists who have forgotten what they learnt on their very first day of training.
If someone comes to you and accuses a very high profile person of a particularly horrific crime, would you not at least show them a picture of the guy and check we are all talking about the same person? Seems obvious to me.
But despite all this I still believe the BBC is capable of great things, so I shamelessly invited myself to the set of Strictly Come Dancing. Where I found old-school television-making of the highest order.
In advance, eight crews follow the couples as they learn their new dances, and get involved in amusing stunts. Because you never know when someone is going to fall over in rehearsal, or say something funny, or finally rage against the paso doble, the shooting ratio for these shoots is massive, so over the series these crews alone create 5000 hours of content which has to be tagged and edited into packages for the weekday show It Takes Two as well as the Saturday primetime spectacular.
But it is in the studio that you see real craftsmanship and hard work. With anything up to 14 competitive dance routines, plus all sorts of other acts, there is a huge amount to get through. On a Saturday there is a 90 minute live programme, followed immediately by the recording of the 40 minute results programme which itself needs a lot of pre-packaged inserts. This is booked as a 13.5 hour day for the crew and frequently over-runs.
Top admiration goes to director Nikki Parsons. She gets to see the routines only in videos shot by the insert crews in rehearsal rooms. From these she has to create a camera plan to make it look magical on television. Each celebrity couple gets three runs-through before the cameras in the studio on Friday, and maybe one or two before the dress rehearsal on Saturday.
So Nikki has to be pretty much spot on with the way she plans to use the 11 cameras at her disposal as there is little time to change her mind. Those 11 cameras, incidentally, include my second hero of the show, the guy doing the wireless Steadicam who has to move around the dancers then get out of the way smoothly to avoid getting in shot. The handheld cabled cameras have to rush from the floor up the back stairs to Tess’s balcony, so they too do not need to go to the gym for a day or two.
The show is like a sport outside broadcast, with virtually all the cameras recorded iso to EVS, so instant highlights packages can be created. There are also fast turnaround edits for spots like Len’s Lens which to the audience appear to be a calm reflection 24 hours on but which in reality have to be packaged and ready to insert in about half an hour.
I could go on about the real skills and talent on show, from the eight follow-spot operators up in the grid to the fantastic live band and singers. Production and post is all provided by BBC Studios and Post Production. Thanks to them, and to commercial manager Charlotte Forde in particular, for showing me around. More important, respect to everyone involved behind the cameras.
So, it is going to get worse for the BBC before it gets better. I suspect good people will be lost, and inevitably there will be a reluctance to step up. Would you want to be DG, knowing that you could be sacked in six weeks for something that really was not your fault? And some of the editorial decisions at Newsnight have been woeful.
But I think we should celebrate the fact that the BBC created the language of creative television, and all of those skills are on show in Strictly. Sometimes it is nice just to watch experts at work, sit back and say top job.
[picture credit: BBC/Guy Levy]

Tags: iss072 | bbc | strictly come dancing | newsnight | evs | N/A
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