Writing for television and the editorial influence
WRITING FOR TELEVISION
The major problem facing any writer coming fresh to television is to
understand what it is. Is it a new art medium or merely a new method of
disseminating information? Is it simply an extension of radio, or is it
just an inferior form of cinema? These are basic questions which require
an answer. Before dealing with them, however, I would like to set down
the three main problems which, in my belief, face any writer, new to
television. They are:
(1) The problem, already mentioned, of understanding the nature of
(2)The problems of time and space encountered in const rusting the
(3)The problem of lay-out of the script.
Now to deal with these in order. Perhaps the best way 1o start on the
first is to compare television with other media and' to plot its
affinities and contrasts.
Like radio, it is broadcast to a mass-audience grouped in small numbers;
it forms part of a daily service; it may be produced inside the studio,
outside it, or both; and each programme is consumed in one performance,
or a small number of performances. Like the film, it employs cameras and
the action is seen through lens; it is viewed on a screen; it employs
simultaneously sound and vision; it employs grammatical devices such as
the mix and the fade. Like the theatre it is a live medium; its actors
or actualities give a continuous performance.
Now for the points of divergence. Unlike radio, television, must bow to
the exacting demands of vision as well as sound. Unlike the film it is
principally a live, as opposed to a recorded, medium — although this may
change with time; its action has only relative mobility. Unlike the
stage play, its action can move swiftly from set to set; it plays to
small intimate groups of people at short range.
From this brief analysis it should be apparent that, although television
draws characteristics from these media, it can by no means be identified
with any one of them. It has too many affinities with the film merely to
be an extension of sound radio; it has too much of radio and the theatre
merely to be an inferior form of cinema. It is a new and exciting medium
in its own right. It is not even an alternative to the theatre or the
cinema; it is rather a window on the world, a magic window through which
can be seen passing all the sights and sounds and people of the day.
Maurice Wiggin, the television critic, once called television "a
periscope through which we can see how the world wags". This seems to me
a definition it would be hard to better.
When I said that television was a live medium I was, of course, quite
aware that it does employ both recorded sound. (on disc or tape) and
recorded vision (on film). Most plays and documentaries use linking
filmed sequences and some types of programme use a high proportion of
film. When this happens television takes on temporarily the
characteristics of a recorded medium, though its real nature remains the
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