Studio Production (Or, Buttons: A Love Story)

Has there ever been anything more enticing?

Lighting and editing aside, you know what’s actually fun? Studio production. Why? So many buttons.

My Intro to Electronic Media class is a comprehensive course, designed to give us a knowledge base in just about every subject necessary for the creation of electronic media. The most recent skill they’ve been teaching us is studio production: The art of a bunch of people sitting in front of a bunch of different, outdated machines and pushing buttons and saying things in the right order, a process which, if done correctly, will make a live television broadcast happen. If done incorrectly, everyone gets angry and yells at each other. The evening news, I have learned, is a delicate and precarious thing.

It takes a lot of people to run a live TV broadcast – you need somebody to work the teleprompter, somebody to manage audio levels, a guy in the master control room to see that everything is being broadcast properly, somebody to design the little titles that pop up under the anchors, a person to operate the switcher, which determines which video feed from which camera gets broadcast, and a director to tell all of them what they should be doing at any given time.

What all of this amounts to is buttons: Thousands and thousands of buttons. The mock TV studio in the basement of the journalism school is basically one big orgiastic tribute to the button, and, more importantly, the pushing thereof. That’s actually all that electronic media is, now that I think about it – pushing buttons. Sure, there’s some menus and dials along the way, and at least one prominently placed lever, but by and large if you meet somebody with an electronic media degree, you can bet that their fingers are calloused from spending long days bent over large, expensive consoles, endlessly pushing buttons.

When I was a child, I made frequent trips with my parents and various school groups to OMSI, the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, a large and endlessly wonderful children’s museum full of interactive, rotating exhibits about space travel, dinosaurs, earthquakes, and anything else likely to hold a five year old’s attention for a few minutes.

Space travel and dinosaurs were all fine by me, but what I liked most about OMSI was the fact that most of the interactive exhibits had buttons you could push.

I think buttons and the pushing thereof holds a revered status among children because we grew up surrounded by buttons we saw adults pushing that we were always expressly forbidden to push ourselves – usually because most household buttons set things on fire or activate spinning blades underneath the kitchen sink. At OMSI, we were surrounded by child friendly buttons that had no function – well, okay, maybe they would make a recording of a scientist explain about erosion or some shit like that, but anyone who actually waited around long enough to see what pushing the button had accomplished was seriously limiting his ability to seek out and push other buttons. The point is, we could pretend to be button-pressing adults all we wanted.

In a TV studio, there are just as many if not more buttons.

The teleprompter operator sets the speed at which the script moves with a big silver dial which doubles as a button which, when pressed, starts the teleprompter. The audio operator has both buttons and sliders which turn mics on and off and adjust their levels. The technical director is in charge of a series of highly advanced buttons with built in LCD readouts which explain what that button has been assigned to do (activities are assigned to buttons by pushing other buttons), and below these buttons are more buttons which light up when pressed and serve only to show that the buttons above are ready to be pressed.

These buttons, unlike the ones at OMSI, affect very specific things when pressed, and seeing as about half of the buttons in the control room are tied to equipment on-camera personnel are using live in the studio, careless pressing of the buttons can result in making someone look like a dick on live TV. Boom goes the dynamite? Somebody was probably messing with the teleprompter speed control. If you hate somebody on television, by all means, go into the control room and start pushing buttons.

As a child I would’ve rejoiced at the opportunity to push all these buttons, but now that I’ve reached something that could be considered adulthood I have to recognize the terrible power all these buttons hold. Pushing buttons – a fun and carefree activity in my childhood – is now sort of nerve wracking, because one errant push can bring down the entire delicately constructed broadcast and get everybody in the studio to yell at you over their headset radios.*

*Oh, yeah, did I mention we get headset radios? Buttons and headset radios. Suck it, public relations majors.

When the stars align, though, and the studio production goes off without a hitch – everyone focused, talking on their headset radios, and pushing the right buttons at the right times – I get this overwhelming sense that now, more than ever, I’ve grown up. I’m in a position to push buttons that have actual power, buttons that, if a small child were nearby, he would be forbidden to push.

Only eight weeks into the term and already electronic media has given me a sense of accomplishment. If only the accomplishment was something more dignified than, “Is old enough to be unsupervised around complex technological equipment.”

Truman Capps promises an end to electronic media-oriented updates for the time being.