Lessons from The Wiz – PT1

Did you catch NBC’s production of The Wiz, Live!? From a ratings perspective it was a huge success. Wait. You didn’t see it? OK. Maybe you were busy. Maybe you forgot? But hopefully it wasn’t a case of “I didn’t want to”. As a member of the church technical community you almost missed a great opportunity, but fortunately NBC will re-broadcast the show on December 19th. Mark your calendar now!

OK. Full disclosure. This isn’t Tom writing (perhaps some of you really good audio guys could recognize that the voice wasn’t sounding right in your head). My name is Mark and I’m a video team leader in a modern, mid-sized, mid-western church with a mission to reach people for Christ. Tom and his writings on ControlBooth.tv have been a huge help to us in our technical production areas.

Growing up I attended traditional churches that would get super-excited when missionary would return from some foreign land for a visit. We would have them wear the clothes of their new country. What was even more special was having them speak something in the language of their new country. Often the missionary told of how they had to work very hard to learn the language of their new culture. Unfortunately, most of those churches I attended didn’t take the same attitude regarding learning the language of the culture right outside their own doors.

Productions like The Wiz Live! give us a great glimpse of our culture. More specifically, we get a glimpse into our culture’s language and their expectations in production. Imagine a totally unchurched person walking into your church for the first time. When they hear sound – they think of radios, concerts and songs they’ve downloaded. That’s what they expect from sound. When they see TV’s their standard is. well. it’s TV. If we deliver less than those expectations, we’ve already built a cultural barrier.

So let’s learn from one of the “wizards” of The Wiz. from Tom, the real voice of ControlBooth.tv.

[Mark]: Tom, tell us a bit about the company you work for and how you personally fit into the production of The Wiz.

[Tom]:  The average television audience member (or church tech for that matter) may not realize it, but TV networks are really proficient at actually airing programs (along with commercials and collecting ad revenue that comes from that). However, they generally do not concentrate on producing original “special” content or keeping around the human or equipment assets needed to create an entertainment special. When they wish to produce specialty content a void exists that people in my particular profession fill.

Major TV events in the ‘entertainment-special’ world, such as concerts, award shows, The Wiz, Live!, etc., do not occur at a regular frequency (as for example sporting events may). As a result the networks don’t keep the necessary infrastructure of people, facilities and equipment on hand. The company I work for provides those things to the producers. We supply TV studios, TV production trucks, cameras, lenses, support systems, satellite and fiber optic transmission, editorial solutions, streaming, direct-to-theater distribution, systems, crew, etc.

Examples of the types of entertainment shows I work on include the Global Citizen Festival, Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade last week, A Very Murray Christmas on Netflix now, the Frank Sinatra 100th Anniversary – An All-Star GRAMMY Concert to air on CBS December 6th, the Adele Live in New York City special scheduled to air on NBC December 14th, the Miss Universe Pageant airing on Fox December 20th, the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade airing on ABC December 25th, the NBC’s New Year’s Eve special and others.

My role is in planning, budgeting and managing of the on-site technical facilities and crew. I am the point-person from our company on projects like NBC’s ‘The Wiz, Live!’

[Mark]: The reviews have been very good. What are you most proud of?

[Tom]: I work with great people, those on my company’s staff, on other vendor’s staffs, from the producer’s production company and various freelancers. Everyone is extremely professional and amazingly talented.

I would love for you to have the impression that a show couldn’t go on without me but the honest answer is that my success is dependent on the people around me, who are great.

Now I think NBC’s Sound of Music, Live! (2013), Peter Pan, Live! (2014) and now the Wiz, Live! airing this past week are really special because they connect us as audiences (and myself as a technical person) to the golden days of television where everything was done live. It also continues the legacy of Broadway live-theater on TV which started way back on show’s like CBS’ Playhouse 90, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse and others.

[Mark]:  I didn’t see that one coming, Tom. I was waiting to hear about some major technical achievement. It’s cool to hear (and great to remember) that valuing the people that you work with is an important part of producing something of this scale. Let’s wrap it up for today. but get ready as tomorrow we are going to talk about planning. (In case you want to “plan” for the question. Ha ha.)

[Tom]: OK Mark, thanks for taking over the interviewer duties and we’ll be back tomorrow to answer more of your questions.