Why do some TV programs look "funny"?

I’m not sure I can explain my question coherently, but I’ll try.

Every once in a while, when I see a TV program, it looks odd to me. It looks as if the show was filmed on a set, rather than out in the real world, if you get what I mean. Almost as if it was filmed on a cheap video camera. I can’t tell if it’s the color, or the sharpness, or what.

Man, this is hard to explain.

I guess I can best show by examples. Daytime soaps look this way. So do a lot of the older British sitcoms. And often pre-post-production scenes from the special features of a DVD, as if there is some post-production procedure used to make the images seem more “real.”

Does that make any sense? Before I ask the question of why this happens, I’ll ask – does anyone know what the farg I’m talking about?

I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I’d always wondered about it myself. I always thought it was the difference bewtween shooting on film and video, but I have no technical knowledge to back that up. Also, the DVD features thing seems to shoot that down and suggest that it is some type of production effect.

Guess I’ll just wait with you for someone who knows what they’re talking about.

I understand exactly what you mean… though I would have as much trouble describing it as you do.

For what it’s worth, I have wondered if the difference is whether the program was shot on real film or video? Or some other format I am unaware of, of course…

The first time I saw the difference tangibly was in Newhart (the one where he had the inn) - earlier episodes had that really “sharp”, almost garishly-lit look to them; later episodes looked somehow “softer”. Like the difference between watching a stage production and a movie - the first looks more “real” (since it is actually in front of you), yet the latter looks “nicer”. I always attributed it to difference in film and editing (and lighting).

Yikes, and I even previewed…

It’s the difference between film and video. We learned this little factoid in a film class I took once.

Ah, early Newhart! Primo example!

I was going to describe the effect as grainy, but it’s almost the opposite of grainy. It’s like extra sharpness. The effect seems most pronounced during pans.

jk1245, I have to agree with your DVD comment – one would think that the same cameras were used for the features as for the filming. I think the one way this would be wrong is if there is a seperate video camera used along side the “real” one. Or that the video feed is being sent to tape rather than (or in conjuction with) celluloid.

Really? How old is video tape technology? I thought it came of age in the mid-70s, and I can remember some older TV movies that looked that way. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1968, with Jack Palance) certainly has that look.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with Jack Palance was shot on video. Unmistakably. :smiley:

Videotape was first developed in 1956 by the Ampex Corporation, specifically for recording TV shows for rebroadcast.

Definitely the difference between film (grainier and more realistic-looking) and video (sharper but harsher and more cartoon-like). We’ve discussed this at length in previous threads. Lighting also plays a part, particularly in daytime soaps, which use a three-camera process that requires a different lighting setup.

The 1968 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a T.V. movie which was shot on video.

And things I’ve noticed - any TV/film technicians out there to fill us in?

The super-real effect used in Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers and Gladiator. I’m guessing it’s an extra fast shutter speed but that’s a WAG really. I’ve seen the same thing on athletics broadcasts too where I guess it was a side effect of the technology rather than a deliberate artistic choice.

Some shows seem to have a texture overlayed on them, maybe to offset nasty videoness like tdn describes? IIRC a show called Tour of Duty (which was crap anyhoo) had a really obvious grainy pattern to it.

Shows that have an altered “pallette” where the colour is skewed, Enterprise is one.

What are these things and how are they done?

From this site:

And if you read the article you’ll also read about film jitter, which comes from utilizing the US and Canada’s NTSC type broadcasting system at 30 frames per second and trying to reconcile that with film’s standard 24 fps.

There are quite a few reasons why. This article is very interesting regarding the difference.

<slight hijack>

I think I read somewhere that there was a scene in the Shining that took 125 retakes. But I am thinking that (although it’s a commercial), this has to take the cake for some record:

I’ve gotta find a clip of this ad!

Link to Snopes article about the Honda commercial, with links to clips

I know what you mean. It’s because of the cameras that are used. In America they use old cameras. I dont know why but they do. Here in Norway they use new cameras on most of the shows so it looks a bit better…


Click on the cog to launch it.

Or this one, which launches automatically:

I work with scientific imaging systems as well as commercial video cameras.

There is a distinct qualitative difference between programs shot on video and those shot on film. Most people can tell the difference, but not everyone notices it consciously. The lighting is indeed the most noticable factor, but because of the technical differences between film and video, the lighting requirements are different.

Modern videotape cameras are exclusively CCD cameras. The sensors convert photons to electrons with a linear response, i.e., the signal at each pixel is directly proportional to the number of photons received at that pixel on the sensor. After accounting for offsets and defects on the sensor, the number of electrons out divided by the number of photons in is a constant number.

Film cameras, on the other hand, use a photochemical emulsion on a clear substrate, e.g., film. The change in the opacity of a spot on the film is not linear, but logarithmic… ie, as more photons hit the same grain of emulsion, that grain changes opacity a little bit less. The first few photons change the opacity of the developed film more than the last few will.

This difference is important. It means that film can have a much greater dynamic range, or in other words it can record a much greater range of light and dark levels. This is also similar to how the eye responds to light, so it looks more natural. It also provides the director with a lot more options in how to light a scene and establish a “mood” in the scene.

The quality of film also provides more control to the director. The director has a wide choice of film stock, with different sensitivity to light (speed) and different responses to color (look at Three Kings vs Twelve Monkeys, or for Boomers, Duel in the Sun vs. Midnight Cowboy). These kinds of effects can be simulated on videotape, but they can’t match the impact of the effects from real film stock variations.

Different speeds of film also have different size “pixels” of emulsion, called grains. When they are large, you can almost make out individual grains… thus the “grainy” look. Additionally, these grains are randomly arranged and oriented, as opposed to the pixels on a CCD, which are all uniformly sized and shaped, and in an ordered rectangular grid. Thus, the CCD is susceptible to “aliasing” like when the local weatherman wears a checked tie and the image of the checks on the image sensor is about the same scale as the sensor’s pixels… resulting in that wild and crazy psychedelic effect.

Most TV dramas are shot on film and then transferred to tape for editing and broadcast. If digital effects are required, the film is digitized and then recorded to videotape after the computer effects are added.

Finally, the description of videotape being more “real” is entirely subjective. Part of it is the sharpness that is provided by the stark, flat lighting. It’s also a conditioned reaction, since most news stories are shot on video, whereas works of fiction are typically shot on film.

So what about sitcoms such as, say, Friends? Certainly multiple camera angles are used, so the lighting would have to accomodate that.

Outstanding writeup, thank you.