Reflection: The End of Television As We Know It

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the June, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


OK. This isn’t really technical, and has nothing to do with Final Cut, but I was thinking about this last week and wanted to share this with you…

Last Friday, June 12, marked the end of analog television broadcasting in the US. Tomorrow, all over-the-air transmission becomes digital. I’m all in favor of technology and change, but I wanted to say good-bye to an era.

I got my start in broadcast television, but even before then, growing up in small towns in Wisconsin, I remember how magical TV seemed. First, in the days of black and white, being able to pull images out of the air with thin pieces of wire – and family rituals developed around EXACTLY how those rabbit ears should be pointed to get the best signal, NOT that my brothers were EVER right, of course – then, came color.

When color television first appeared, the TV set was the size of a bookcase laid on its side. More than entertainment, it was a sizable piece of very expensive furniture. Filled with strangely glowing tubes, it radiated both heat and a sense of unlimited power.

I still remember, as a small child, the first color television that came into our small community of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. The TV was displayed in a local furniture store and was four feet high, three feet deep, and eight feet wide. It had about a 15 inch screen and weighed about 800 pounds. The store owner, Katie Malvetz, was a friend of the family and, when NBC announced they would be playing the Wizard of OZ in COLOR for the first time on network television, Katie decided to turn this into a social event.

She and a team of men moved the TV from her showroom to her living room, then she invited her friends to watch with her. When the movie started, there must have been 30 people – adults and kids – in the room. And when Dorothy opened the door to step from black-and-white Kansas into colorful Oz… well, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

To this day I remember how stunned I was to see color images invisibly coalescing on a TV screen. I think, from that moment, I wanted to learn more about how it was done. I was hooked on media.

Fast-forward fifty or so years to last Friday.

The switch from analog to digital won’t have the same poignancy as the switch from black-and-white to color. Nor will families gather in living rooms across the country to admire the transition.

The world has changed… and so have we.

But I didn’t want the switchover to occur without reflecting back on where we’ve been.

Television has the power to spark emotions – and memories – with the stories it tells. And, sometimes, the stories we tell about it.

UPDATE – June 16, 2009

Ian Hart writes:

Regarding your reflection “The end of television as we know it”, where you wax lyrical about getting your start in broadcast television… You must be a young man. I got my start working on 35mm and 16mm film at the London Film School in the mid 1960s. I wonder whether the the constant “high” I experienced at that time was due to my discovery of this exciting new art form or just the effects of sniffing the film glue! I clearly remember the day that our Editing lecturer, David Gladwell, brought in the big new thing: our first guillotine tape splicer! Prior to that we had all had to master the black art of cement splicing (where you lost a frame in 16mm) and calculating “build-up” if you changed your mind about the cut.


Like everyone else in the 1970s I had to learn video editing with its 10 second roll-ups and loss of quality every time you made an edit and (pre-computer) having to re-edit everything from a hand-written EDL if you wanted to change a shot near the beginning… For me, video editing was a 20 year stretch in purgatory, an aberration. It turned the art of editing into a mechanical process. So you can imagine my joy in the mid-1990s on discovering digital editing, first with Premier 1.0 and then Final Cut Pro 1.0. All the metaphors related to film editing. It was like coming home again.


I’m thankful to you for all the tips and tricks and shortcuts in your workshops. They make my “super tape splicer” work faster, but I’m very pleased to find that the Wardour St. training I got 45 years ago in logging rushes, making work prints, filing trims, marking up opticals; not to mention laying sound tracks, marking music cues, recording Foley tracks, audio sweetening and mixing, etc. are all transferable to digital editing.


Life is good again.

Tom Wolsky adds:

I so resemble this. I think I may have been to the same film school a couple of years before or after him. When I was there it was the London School of Film Technique.

Larry replies: Thanks, Ian and Tom, for sending these.

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