Awards Show Trips on the Red Carpet

SAN FRANCISCO (03/07/2000) - Last night, while TV fans were giving a nod to their small-screen faves at the TV Guide Awards in Los Angeles, Web audiences were being treated to another angle: the madness that is backstage. "I wanted people to feel they were allowed to eavesdrop in places they wouldn't normally be," Don Mischer said Sunday night.

Mischer exec-produced both shows. This was supposed to be a boon to the Web-cast staff because they got greater access to the people making the show and were able to set up equipment in areas they normally wouldn't have - such as extra lights over the producer's and director's tables.

But it was a learning-on-the-job experience. The Web-cast crew consisted mostly of people with TV-production experience only. The "streaming people" - who sat in front of monitors with different connection speeds - called out to the TV producers that the picture was blurry because the camera crews were moving too quickly, zooming in and out, zipping through the red-carpet melange to get close to stars.

On the Web, you don't want to move your camera much at all because streaming bits over a 28.8 modem moves images at only a fraction of TV's speed. After the camera crews clued in that they had to hold their lenses on a single subject for minutes at a time, the production slowed its pace - and held its confusion. Underneath these images, sound was piped in from private lines, or "PLs" in TV lingo, from the producer and director. So Web audiences watched the stars arrive but couldn't hear what they were saying. The effect was supposed to be like listening to transmissions between cockpit and air-traffic control, but something was lost between the red carpet and the edit room.

Mischer's wife, Suzan, who produced the Web cast, said that was the plan. "We can choreograph the energy back and forth between backstage and the red carpet," she said Sunday night. The excitement of a behind-the-scenes show only showed through here and there -- like one moment when Mischer was frantically trying to fill the house, then half-empty, just 10 minutes before the show was to air live. "I think a lot of Web casts are overproduced, over-manipulated and over-rehearsed," Mischer says. "For me, the most interesting thing about football is hearing the announcers when the rest of the world is watching a commercial."

He wanted to achieve the same effect with the TV Guide backstage pass on the Web. Well, fine. But Web audiences must have been lost without any guidance from a Web host or chat area. The Web cast was simply produced as if it were a television show - piped over the Internet onto a RealPlayer or Windows Media Player and accessible through, or AOL.