Beginning of the End of TV as We Know It?
Noddy does a noddy shot (photo from five.tv)
The Guardian reports that Alan Yentob, the BBC’s creative director, has performed “noddy shots” on TV interviews that he did not personally conduct for his arts series Imagine.
Noddy shots, in case you don’t know, are those silly cutaways to the interviewer reacting, or not reacting, to the interviewee. In most cases they’re faked — recorded after the interview is over — although this is the first time I’ve heard someone allegedly reacting to someone he hasn’t even interviewed. This probably doesn’t represent a TV first, but it certainly marks the beginning of the end for a lot of hackneyed, silly and anachronistic TV stunts.
The Guardian quotes a BBC source as saying Yentob “often does not conduct all the interviews on Imagine – even though he appears nodding or reacting to them… [S]cenes featuring Mr Yentob reacting to some of the more peripheral figures and experts featured in his programmes were edited in even though he was not actually present. Editing work on the programme later gave the impression that he was present.”
Interestingly, the BBC source “robustly” defends the technique as standard:
“Everybody does it – it is a universal technique,” he said. “The important point is to ask – does this change the meaning of what you are doing and the answer is no it does not.
“If you had everybody who did interviews featured in them you would have have 11 or 12 people nodding at different times which is getting into the realms of the ludicrous. This is standard practice across the industry.”
Er, surely that’s not the point? Surely the point is that the interviewer is pretending to be somewhere he’s not? Surely the viewer is entitled to assume, from the shots of someone nodding/shaking head/looking skeptical/sympathetic/bored/aghast, that they’re actually in the room, presumably facing and listening the person they’re reacting to?
Another channel, Channel Five, the Guardian says. has already banned some of what it calls “rather hackneyed tricks” in its bulletins. Among these are the staged questions (sometimes called reverse questions), where the interviewer is filmed asking questions of the interviewee, usually to an empty chair long after the interviewee has left the building. The BBC Newsnight program has already banned introductory ‘walking shots’ in which a reporter and interviewee are shown walking before a cut to the interview.
I hate these shots too; they look so lame and you can’t help but ponder what they’re really saying when they’re walking along:
“So how much am I getting for this interview?”
“Fancy coming back to my place after this?”
“Please walk a bit more quickly. I’ve got to go record some noddies for 16 interviews I wasn’t there for.”
Frankly I also hate the shots of cameramen or photographers, called cutaways if I recall correctly, which are done to break between the subject — Putin, say — doing different things but not actually moving between them. Putin speaks at press conference and then cuts ribbon on new nuclear bomb shelter, say, would look weird, supposedly, if the viewer didn’t see something in between. So the hapless editor splices in some tape of a cameraman squinting into his camera. Pointless.
The serious point here is this: Sadly this is related to a serious decline in UK TV’s credibility. As such it represents a somewhat weak response; TV news needs to look deeper into its soul to find a way back. It might start with the wider changes wrought on the media by the Web and consider how it’s going to find a new role for itself.
Dropping noddies, fake or real, is a small step. But the biggest one is going to be going back to what was great (and is great, in shows like Newsnight) about TV journalism: well-researched, well-funded, well-shot, well-produced, fearless and ground-breaking stories about stuff we care about.