Showing audience reaction

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Showing audience reaction

By Tony Samson

IT IS a staple of basketball telecasts for the TV camera in dull moments, like a dead ball, between foul shots, or referees conferring on what violations to call, to pan the camera on the audience. The camera catches reaction shots of celebrities with unexpected seatmates or teammates waiting to be fielded in. It is good for the spectator to appear unmindful of stolen shots. (Please don’t wave.) The ideal demeanor should approximate someone who just emptied his bladder and is contented with his present state.

The cameraman is probably given a list of prominent fans to look for. So, unless you own a team, come out on noontime shows as a host or selected, was a former player who just came out of rehab, or are part of a crowd of five picked to promote a ready-to-eat meal (looking excited to eat cold food), you can simply enjoy the game and not be worried about being televised.

In politics too, especially in long-winded congressional hearings where grandstanding is routine, the “live coverage” strays to onlookers without speaking parts. Reaction shots are specifically selected for the editorial slant favored by the TV host or producer. Certain characters are sure to be caught yawning or looking pissed.

The droning voices of interlocutors, commentators, and witnesses turn into white noise. The body language of spectators provide punctuation marks. Stolen shots of the interrogators waiting their turn or personalities alluded to in testimonies offer candid images, as they turn to whisper to their lawyers, perhaps to ask for some guide on how to respond — isn’t this part of your retainer fees?

A worried look can indicate guilt. A smirk shows disdain and a misplaced confidence that allies who have been incentivized will come to the rescue of the aggrieved party — what’s taking them so long?

The TV camera catches spectators in a gotcha moment. The TV program producer is looking at different screens of many cameras covering the event as he chooses which shot to show to the viewers. TV coverages of legislative investigations, fugitives in hiding in the premises, death watches outside hospitals, search and rescue operations in a disaster area, and rallies can become tedious obliging the producer to train cameras on onlookers and conduct interviews with peripheral characters. (So, how did you get here; were you bused in?)

Candid shots can be revealing, sometimes embarrassing. Someone burying an index finger into a nostril on a concentrated hunt for debris, or furiously expectorating a wet fly that has strayed into the open mouth can attract a TV cameraman’s attention. A short pan is enough, and then it’s back to the talking heads.

An accused abuser of a traffic enforcer caught by video phone cameras uploaded to the news may dutifully read an apology written by her lawyer. It is advisable for the ghostwriter beside him to maintain a stoic expression. A smug smile can be perceived as arrogance. The mind needs to be blanked out by imagining an acupuncture needle being applied to the eyeballs. This thought elicits an ideal facial expression that combines dread and humility — please don’t shake your head.

Reaction shots establish the narrative of a televised event. They serve as the background music to a boring movie being viewed. They also guide the mood of the TV audience and highlight characters that serve as proxies for the bigger public. Without any editorial commentary in words, the visual clues of indifference, anger, or puzzlement at what is going on serves as a proxy for public reaction.

It is worth noting then that we had two staged events, one of a press conference with a subordinate and the second, a history lesson on a long-ago regime. Both involved only two people on a stage, agreeing with each other and finishing each other’s sentences. This type of performance is televised without any commercial breaks — what advertiser will pay for such a low-rating program?

This variant of fake news does not even bother to look real. When the camera pulls out from the stage, what is shown are empty seats, without any semblance of an audience or its reaction to this performance. It’s just a fadeout in the end.


Tony Samson is chairman and CEO, TOUCH xda