Designing a TV Program
Lee Schaeffer

Designing an education TV production center is a major undertaking. Commercial television or industrial installations meet the very specific criteria and objectives of the organization. The educational production center must meet a much wider range of expectations while operating with many more constraints on budget and personnel.

The ideal educational television center provides facilities for:

Educational facilities usually require that the engineering, production and teaching responsibilities fall on one person. Any new program has a very steep learning curve for the design of the educational curriculum and technical expertise. The ideal program will grow and evolve over several years. Every school is unique in the facilities available and the expertise of the personnel. Consequently, there are very few reference books to aid in this design process.

Television Vs Video Production

TV production falls into two main categories -- Television and Video. There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of productions in a classroom setting.

Television is defined here as the production of live or live-on-tape programming using real time switching between multiple cameras. This process takes place in a studio setting or at a remote venue for events such as sports, concerts, plays, graduation, etc.

Video is defined as using videotape shot on location with a portable camera and then using post-production equipment and film techniques to edit the final production.

Television takes more equipment, pre-production planing and setup time. On the other hand, it can involve 15 or more students, working as members of a team each with a specific task to be learned. Eventually, a formula develops since most studio or sports productions will use the same equipment, configuration and basic script. The productions may be new to the students but the instructor will have a blueprint in his pocket and can use his time for teaching rather than for engineering. There is the advantages that once the program is in-the-can it requires no further work.

Video production may take less equipment and setup. However, video productions often require a detailed pre-production script and storyboard. The cinematographers must be skilled in film making techniques to proved the editor with:

There is less control of sound and lighting when shooting in remote situations. The video and audio editing for even the simplest productions can be a time intensive operation. The rule-of-thumb is one hour of production time for each minute of finished product. These techniques should definitely be part of the educational curriculum but unfortunately involve only 1-3 students in the shooting and editing process at one time.

General Observations

Teaching studio television production using a ring-a-round technique can involve many students each concentrating on mastering one skill. The crew assignments for these training productions should include assistants for many of the major positions. Unlike the real world, the assistants should be students who have previously performed the task and their responsibility is to teach the next student. This keeps the entire crew occupied, reinforces learning and provides relief for the instructor.

Endless repetition of studio exercises eventually becomes boring. Students will work harder and learn more when participating in a program that they know airs within the school or community. However, the students lack the skills and the instructor lacks the time to write and produce original programming. One way to students extensive training in studio operations is to televise school events such as sports events and concerts.

To move production equipment to these locations, run cables and get everything working is a doable but time-consuming operation. Making a one-time investment in time and materials to run cables from these venues to the studio makes these productions quite simple.

Producing such program gives students a sense of ownership and pride in their production. The problem arises that most of these activities occur after school or in the evening, that disenfranchises quite a few students from participating. Consequently, such a production program must function as an extra curricular basis for students and on an extra duty remuneration basis for the staff.

TV Studio and Classroom Configuration

Production Equipment and Configuration

There are several systems that make a television studio functional:



You may need access to the following video sources at any given time:

This list is obviously more than most switchers can accommodate. To solve this problem, all switcher inputs and video sources should terminate at a patch panel. The limited switcher inputs can be quickly be configured for the needs of any production with our rewiring the video console. For example, this also allows patching VCRs to the switcher, the cable modulator or to each other for editing sessions without rewiring the equipment itself.

During productions, it is standard operating procedure to have cameras displayed on the director’s camera monitors in the same left to right configuration as the cameras. Consequently, it is easier to re-patch the switcher inputs than to move cameras or cables.

Video Patch Panel Typical Inputs and Outputs

  • Switcher 6 Inputs
  • Cameras 4 Studio -- jacks in studio
  • 2 Control Room -- Graphics camera
  • Remote Camera 5 From Gym
  • 4 From Auditorium
  • 1 From Main office
  • Computer Input/output
  • Satellite Output
  • Cable Tuner Output
  • VCRs 1 input 2 outputs
  • TBC 1 input 1 output
  • Program 1 input to program monitor
  • Spares Several jacks for future expansion


The switcher is the heart of any studio control center. Video switchers should not be judged by the number of special effects that are available. It is fun for students to play with all the wipe and key patterns. However, during a normal production there is no artistic need for them or time to set up the switcher to use them in real time. There can never be too many inputs. In the long run it is much easier if the switcher does not have to be constantly be re-configured.

The switcher should provide:

On a low budget system using camcorders as studio camera, the Videonics switchers can be used. The MX-1 has some stability problems so it is recommended using their higher-grade model. The use of this switcher also eliminates genlock problems.


The cameras selected for the studio will be used in many different configurations. They should be capable of being configured for studio operation and used in-the-field as stand alone cameras. These cameras will receive rather harsh treatment my many students over their lifetime. The camera/switcher system design should accommodate any type of camera since the cameras will die before the switcher. Modern cameras have excellent automatic and manual overrides that do not require a Camera Control Unit (CCU). The only coaxial cable connection required is to the switcher via the rack panel. This cable should have braided copper outer conductor (not aluminum foil as used in CATV cable).

The cameras also need a Tally Light and Intercom System but this does not have to be an integral part of the camera. All that is needed is a box with a red LED and a 1/4" phone jack attached to the camera with Velcro. This has advantages in that inexpensive data cable and 9-pin "D" computer jacks can serve for the intercom and tally light systems both in the studio and at remote locations. While video connections are standardized, each manufacture uses a different system for their tally light and intercom wiring. Inexpensive camcorders incorporated into the system have no provision for either of these systems.

You will encounter these same problems to some degree when configuring any studio camera. You can use a camcorder as a studio camera with a non-sync switcher but you are still going to need a tally light and intercom and power system.

The best compromise is to use a small connector box as in interface between the studio and the camera. This box would also contain a tally light and a 1/4 headphone jack. A central power supply or several smaller supplies provide power for each camera. These smaller supplies should be removable to run the cameras in a stand-alone configuration out of the studio.


Try to use a studio type viewfinder regardless of the type of camera. Even camcorders, on a tripod, need a studio viewfinder since it is very tiring to operate a camera for any length of time using the eye piece viewfinder. On a limited budge, inexpensive 5" TV sets can be used if they have Audio/Video input connectors.   Be careful if you use  a "Y" connector on the video cable from the camera.   Some monitors have a high impedance input that will not "double terminate" the video feed.  However, if you notice a drop in video levels when the monitor is connected, you need to disconnect the 75 Ohm "terminating" resistor from the monitor. This requires opening the case, following the path from the video connector to the circuit board, identify the 75Ohm resistor and cutting a lead.   Install a switch to reconnect the resistor for normal use.


Studio camera tripods or pedestals should be of the highest quality affordable. They must be sturdy enough for years of abuse. They must be heavy enough so they are will not be upset when people trip on camera cables. They must have good dollies to allow them to move smoothly in the studio and to remote locations in the school. Pedestals are recommended for studio use. Tripods are preferable for remote locations.

The Pan-Tilt Heads should also be of highest quality. Fluid heads provide smoothness of operation and prevent cameras from nose-diving. These heads equipped with quick release plates make for ease of camera installation and removal.


Each video source needs a monitor in the control area. A teaching studio needs to use at least 2 -- 2 bank 19" rack panel monitors installed high enough so they can be seen by people standing behind the director. The studio will usually be using three cameras plus a VCR or other feed. Once more ambitious programming begins, there may be additional cameras and VCRs. Provide for eventually having 4 - 2 bank monitors in the production console. Again, on a limited budge, TV monitors or old computer monitors can be used if the 75-Ohm resistor is removed as noted above.


A high quality program monitor is required for camera setup and to monitor the final production. It helps if the preview monitor is identical to the program monitor but it is not necessary.


Designing a workable configuration for both the equipment installation and production workstations is an interesting exercise. Since this is a teaching studio, the layout must take into account the traffic patterns for instructors and other students in the control room during the production. The control room will eventually house various related activities such as off air recording of satellite programs, cable access playback.

It might be wise to construct a mockup out of cardboard boxes to test the layout with chairs and students before a committing to a configuration. This might make an interesting project with groups of students assigned to research and mockup each area. Many equipment suppliers will provide real sized photographs of both the front and back panels of their equipment for these mockups.

Some equipment such as VCRs require removal from time but most equipment function best when permanently installed. This can either be in industry standard 19" rack panels or custom woodwork consoles. In ether case, there must be access to the rear of the equipment. Having the equipment supplied with wheels although it remains in the control room. Provide excess cable lengths between consoles and rack panels to allow the equipment movement during and after the installation.

There will be three major components to this layout:

The Television Production Area

The main production area will contain the operating positions and equipment for:

When functioning as a classroom, there will need to be room for other students and instructors to instruct or assist these operators. Each position will need a minimum of 24" of lineal space. The Director, TD and VCR operators must be able to comfortably see the production monitors.

There is no requirement that the production console face the window into the studio. With camera monitors and equipment running across the front the main production console and the line and preview monitors located above them, there will not be enough room to place the console in front of the studio window. Consideration should be given to having the main production console face the outside widows.

Post Production Editing

Postproduction becomes part of the main production area if editing projects are not going on concurrent with studio productions. With the limited space and confusion in the control room, post production and studio production functions would have to take place in separate areas.

Distribution and Equipment Rack

At least two 19" rack panels will be needed to contain the equipment:


Audio is one of the most important production values to any video production. Voices must be clear and have a full range of fidelity. Any acoustical or electrical noise will seriously degrade the quality of the production.

Balanced line cable and 3-pin XLR connectors are mandatory due to the long microphone cables needed both in the studio and to remote locations and the high level of interference present in a studio environment.


For most productions, there will be more sound sources than video sources. The mixer should have a minimum of 6 microphone inputs and two auxiliary inputs. Ideally the mixer should have balanced line jacks but 1/4" input jacks can be used with external matching transformers.

The mixer should also have CUE capabilities so that the announcers can communicate with the studio without being put on the are.


TV Production monitors usually do not have speakers or if they do, the are too small for adequate sound reproduction (The magnets in larger speakers distort the image on the picture tube.) Eventually, the studio will do some of its production work in stereo. There should be a set of good quality monitor speakers installed usually above program monitor. These speakers should have a "flat" frequency response. The amplifier’s power rating should not exceed that of the speakers but be high enough to deal with the high noise levels in the control room. At times, the audio operator may want to use a good pair of stereo headphones.


Install n audio patch panel to connect microphone jacks in the studio and from remote production locations to the mixer inputs. There should be enough capability in the audio mixer so that the auxiliary sound sources (cassette tape, CD, satellite, playback VCR, etc.) can be left connected.


The audio operator should have a large, analog, moving needle, VU meter. LED meters usually show peak levels and are not as easy to read.


Use broadcast quality, balanced line microphones for two reasons: good fidelity and because they survive being dropped on studio floors! The studio should have a selection of Omni-directional, unidirectional and tie clip microphones. In the end, expensive microphones will save you money and frustration.

Wireless microphones have limited use in the studio but are extremely valuable in remote locations. The NANDY DUET receiver with a tie clip and hand help microphone connects directly to a camcorder, VCR or to a balanced line with the use of a matching transformer.


During a production, cassette tapes are easier to cue than CD. When a live production calls for several audio clips, it is easier to record them at the beginning of several tapes. Quickly switching the tapes during the production eliminates missed cues.


Most music and sound effect distribution are on CD. The audio production centers need a consumer grade CD player to transfer these sounds to cassette tapes.


The mixer will need to accommodate line level audio from other sources. These sources can be switch selectable since each production requires a limited number to these sound sources.


The director needs to be able to communicate with the camera operators, floor director. Camera operators should be seen and not heard! There is no need for microphones on the camera headphones. Communication during the setup phase is via the studio microphones. During the productions, the studio crew should not talk.

To prevent ground loops and to allow long cable runs, use headphones rated at 2000-ohms rather than the 8-ohms of standard audio headphones. Most listening center headphones found in school media centers are 2000 ohm.

In the studio or when the announcer is in a remote location, require an Interruptible Fold Back system. Program audio is Folded Back to the announcer’s ear piece or headphones to enable them to hear each other and other production audio. Locate the IFB Switch within reach of the director. Throwing this switch Interrupts, the Fold Back audio is and replaces it with the director's intercom audio.


Fewer production mistakes result when the camera operators and the talent are aware which camera is on the air. Tally lights on the control room camera monitors also aid the production staff. Standard operating procedure is to number the cameras from right to left. A patch panel for the tally lights allows any camera to be designated as "camera one."


A character generator or computer graphics system also connects through to the video patch panel. Production, editing or program playback will require different graphics configurations.

Choosing a computer graphics program or device should depend in part on its ease of use and the ability to edit graphics quickly during a production.


The production studio needs at least one S-VHS VCR for program recording and one or two playback VCR for some programs. Since the VCRs are a major expense, their physical arrangement should be such that they can also be used as an editing station. Recording and playback do not require a full function editing VCR. A simpler machine, ideally with a built in TBC, meets the requirements for live-on-tape recording and program playback. This frees the better machines for editing and saves ware on during extended playbacks. The Districts current VCR/Editing equipment meets these requirements.


A TBC provides a broadcast stable signal required when airing programs on cable or when doing high quality editing or duplication. The TBC also provides functions to correct color balance and other video errors from camcorder recordings. The TBC should be patchable between VCRs in the editing configuration or before the cable modulator.


Lighting is one of the most misunderstood areas of TV production. The first mistake is usually too many lights. A small set with one or two actors on the set can look quite acceptable with only four lights.

Modern cameras will produce an acceptable picture in low light. Greater illumination allows a smaller F-stop on the camera lens to produce a greater depth-of-field. This produces a sharper looking image on a set with a great deal of depth.

The Main, Fill and Backlights are traditionally located at a 45o angle above the subject to provide good modeling and to allow the shadows to drop behind the subject.

To meet these requirements, suspend the light grid from the ceiling by adjustable chains. Raise the grid in the future with the addition of more lighting instruments. This grid should be made out of 1" to 1"1/2 black iron pipe. There should be at least 6, 30-amp circuits, (2 each for the Main Fill and Backlights) Additional circuits should be available at the floor level

Dimmers connected to the Main and Fill lights can create a fade in effect at the beginning of a production. However, do not use dimmers to control the intensity of the lights be cause the change the color balance of the light.

Portable lights require more wires on the studio floor and the stands are very top heavy and tend to fall. On remote locations, they are cumbersome to transport and setup.

The higher the lighting grid the brighter the lighting instruments need to be. A low grid may require fewer lights but may be wide-angle camera shots will show the grid and back lights.

The constructions of a simple and inexpensive set of lighting instruments make an interesting class project. Install porcelain light sockets in the bottom of unused paint cans painted with black automotive engine pint. A band iron "U" bracket bent and drilled in your metal shop and attached to the can with large wing nuts. Attach high-grade flexible power cables to the bottom of the cans with cable clamps. Install 150-300 watt flood or spotlights. Purchase theatrical type pipe clamps to hang the lights on the grid.

Attach a safety cable around the grid pipe and through the light brackets to prevent the light from falling if the clamp slips off the pipe.


The District’s cable access should be installed in the studio area. Its input should be patchable to ether the output of a Time Base Corrected VCR or the studio’s production feed for live programs. The VCR will need an automatic timer for most replays. There should be a separate TV receiver to monitor the access channel. This receiver serves to monitor off air recording or recording from satellite feeds. Consideration should be give to a key switch to prevent unauthorized or accidental airing of programs.

Editing Stations

Non-liner on stand-alone or computer-based system are more cost effective, state of the art than the older "edit controllers."

Computers and Television

The studio will eventually include a computer for production graphics. With the ease of accessibility to the school’s computer labs, computer graphics will eventually become part of the program.

Storage and Work Room Area

There needs to be an area to store equipment, support materials and a workbench for simple repair and maintenance. This area can also hold a small library of production tapes, CD and computer disks. There should be one or more locking cabinet for microphones, camcorders, etc.

Remote Production Venues

At some point, the program may evolve into production programs from remote location in or near the school. The difficulty with these types of productions is moving the equipment to the remote area. The simplest solution is not to move it! Consider a permanent installation for any areas used for remote productions on a regular basis. The time spent on this installation will be saved many times over in the future. The major time and expense involved in installing a remote system is in physically running the cables. Wire on the other had is cheep! Think of all the possibilities for the future and run extra cables when in doubt.

For most locations, the following are required:

Several general considerations when running these cables:

Notes on remote venues:

For concerts, place the cameras to show the full depth of the stage. On the other hand, for plays and musicals, locate the cameras at eye level to the actors.

Basketball games and wrestling matches can be covered with two announcers, a crowd microphone a camera on the balcony and a second camera on the floor. Expanding the number of cameras involves more students and produces higher production values. The installation should accommodate two cameras in the center of the balcony and one on each end of the court or mat.

A fifth line will allow a camera shot of the scoreboard. When fed into the switcher's matte/wipe generator, the score allows the superimposition of the score over the game. Displaying this camera on a monitor allows the computer operator to enter the score in a timely manor.

Usually there will be two announcers with headset type microphones, a crowd microphone and for floor interviews and a line connected to a wireless microphone receiver.

Three camera lines run to an adjacent classroom (two in the back and one in the front of the room for class reactions and for close-ups of demonstrations) and several microphone lines. It is easier to move a class to another room than to move the production equipment out of the studio.