Sunday shows to get up close, personal
By MICHAEL CALDERONE | 4/19/08 6:30 AM EST
John McCain may joke on the campaign trail about having more scars than Frankenstein, but does the senator (or viewers, for that matter) want them broadcast in high-definition?
Either way, that was the case on April 20, when McCain sat down with host George Stephanopoulos on ABC News' This Week in the inaugural broadcast from the Newseum and the first of the Sunday morning chat shows in high-def.
It was a busy week for Stephanopoulos, with the flood of complaints he received for focusing on less pressing matters like BitterGate and SniperGate while co-moderating this week's Democratic debate in Philadelphia.
But as Stephanopoulos, the network's Washington bureau chief, got back to the business of anchoring This Week, perhaps viewers were too dazzled with the sharper image to remember his Wednesday night cross-examination on patriotism.
While networks have increasingly stepped up their high-def offerings in recent years, news has always lagged behind sitcoms and sports. The audience, it's believed, prefers the stitching on a baseball more than the lines on a politician's face.
Still, even the Sunday morning shows, where senior elected officials and a few face-for-print journalists hold court, could be getting a makeover.
In August, "Fox New Sunday" is slated to be shot in high-def just imagine Brit Hume two to five times sharper! and NBC's Meet the Press is expected to go HDTV in 2009, according to network officials.
Right now, CBS' Face the Nation doesn't have any set plans, but network executives have enough on their plate trying to find a replacement for host Bob Schieffer, who will likely retire next year.
Superficially speaking, Washington hasn't had the best reputation when it comes to looks Hollywood for ugly people, goes the dig.
But it seems like ABC is prepared.
You can do HD with grace or without any forethought, said Kathy O'Hearn, executive producer of This Week. We'll do it with grace.
Within ABC News, only Good Morning America is currently shot in high-def, becoming one of the industry avatars in November 2005. One of the graceful innovations used on GMA is a soft filter that gives a somewhat fuzzier image of host Diane Sawyer.
We want an attractive show, so we're aware of it in terms of what filters we use and how the cameras are set, O'Hearn said, when asked (diplomatically) about dealing with less HD-friendly guests.
Recently, in preparing for Sunday's show, O'Hearn traveled to GMA's studio in New York about a month ago to learn some of the tricks needed for high-def (there are plenty, including a different makeup application). And Roger Goodman, the network's top director, provided training to staff in Washington.
Over the past week, O'Hearn joked that they've cut 75,000 versions of segments, in anticipation, while working specifically with roundtable pundits like Cokie Roberts. And in addition to high-def, O'Hearn said the new studio's other advantages, including windows overlooking the Capitol, will infuse the show with light and a feeling of vitality.
It's more vivid, real, O'Hearn said, of the high-def shots. It's like you can put your hand in it.
Phillip Swann, president of the industry-monitoring TVPredictions.com, agreed, saying that high-def provides a whole new view of how these people look.
Whether harkening back to the Kennedy/ Nixon debate in 1960, or more recently via countless YouTube clips from the campaign trail, a presidential contender's image on screen of health, vitality and appearing trustworthy is important.
Swann said that although McCain remains self-deprecating about his age and appearance, he needs to be mindful of the position he sits in and the camera angle McCain's puffier left cheek and scar on his neck are the result of melanoma surgery from 2000.
But Swann added that the other two candidates won't be completely spared, either.
He said that Hillary Rodham Clinton will look more like her age of 60, due to abundant wrinkles picked up only in high-def. And even Barack Obama, the youngest and perhaps the best suited for the medium, has veins on his forehead that look a little unhealthy.
With increased pixels drawing attention to minor imperfections, caking on makeup isn't an option.
What I'm wondering is how they make up John McCain, because he has lots of brown spots over his face, said Davida Simon, a freelance makeup artist who's worked with politicians such as Sen. John F. Kerry.
That's difficult to cover without looking like makeup, said Smith, adding that McCain's paleness is another factor to be mindful of.
Not only are television makeup artists getting trained for high-def application, but some cosmetics companies now create products specifically for the growing industry.
One of the things they're going to have to get used to is that more is going to be exposed than in the past, said Sheila McKenna, founder of Kett Cosmetics.
McKenna's company produces makeup tested in front of high-def cameras, and she's consulted for several networks, including CNN, NBC and ABC.
And McKenna's advice for Washington's top political figures and reporters is something many who became well-known in the fantasy-land of television might not want to hear: You're going to look more like yourself, she said.
So what's the advantage for Stephanopoulos be first out of the gate?
Swann said that it's smart and not a coincidence, that ABC went first in high-def with the youngest of the Sunday morning anchors, the same way that NBC led the pack by broadcasting the Nightly News with Brian Williams in high-def a year ago still the only evening newscast to have done so.
And Swann doesn't want every Sunday show to make the technological leap.
Can you imagine the 'McLaughlin Group' in high-def? he asked.http://www.politico.com/news/stories/0408/9714.html