Friday, January 24, 2014


For those of us who write for (or who have written for) both television and radio, the following short chapter ('NOTE ON TELEVISION') from the 1938 book, Practical Radio Writing by Seymour & Martin, provides some interesting advice, but not so much in the way of encouragement. However, the authors' view on the ultimate peaceful (?) coexistence of radio and television is downright prescient!

With radio broadcasting no longer a novelty but an established medium of entertainment and information, the public is anticipating a newer medium which will transmit visual images to supplement sound.

The individual who wishes to write for radio’s aural audience, however, should not concern himself with television. Material written for this newest medium, which combines the techniques of writing for the stage and screen, is a complete reversal of radio technique, and a detailed analysis of television writing finds no place in a book devoted to Practical Radio Writing.

Television’s first function will be to provide entertainment which cannot be supplied by any other present medium—notably the direct telecasting of world events. Radio enables listeners to sit comfortably in their homes and hear a football or baseball game, and to know the final score the moment the spectators know it. Television can take the final step and make it possible for people to see the game in their own homes, without the assistance of an announcer who interprets the action through his eyes and words.

News events, “telecast” or “televised” from the scene of the action have been extremely successful. Such presentations, however, will be of little interest to the radio writer. The spoken portions of such programs have included only written opening announcements and extemporaneous remarks by a commentator.

Obviously the radio writer’s technique is inapplicable to television, just as it is to the stage or screen. The expert radio writer will have as much difficulty adapting his dialogue to visual presentation as the average stage dramatist finds today in adjusting himself to the demands and limitations of radio. The successful radio writer has taught himself to work strictly in terms of sound. But in the television medium the visual appeal becomes of paramount importance, because the novelty of television lies in the fact that it enables members of a home audience to see something which is being transmitted to them from outside their homes.

Many of the successful television dramas which have been transmitted to date have stressed the visual appeal. The scripts have consisted mostly of stage directions, with sounds and spoken lines being used only to emphasize the main points of the plot and to heighten the effect of climaxes. Dialogue has been of little more importance than the captions used in old-time, silent motion pictures.

Similarly, when sound was first added to motion pictures, the “talkies” were extremely verbose and noisy. Today, dialogue and sounds are important to motion pictures, but no more important than the visual appeal. Over a period of years, an effective technique has been evolved which combines sound with sight.

The same evolution will take place in television before it becomes an important medium of entertainment. But in order to create successful scripts for this new medium, writers will be compelled to learn the advantages and drawbacks of television entertainment. As in broadcasting, the first television scripts will be produced by writers and directors who take an active part in the development of a new technique.

Undoubtedly, dramatic entertainment will play an important part in television when many technical obstacles have been surmounted, and when the practical question—“Who will pay the tremendous costs of television?”—has been answered with satisfaction. From present indications, based on the experiments made to date, the cost of providing interesting television programs, on a nation-wide basis, will be prohibitive. Whether or not advertisers will foot the bill for regular television programs is a moot question. Someone must pay—and the cost will be many times that of commercial radio programs of equal interest. Mechanically, television has graduated from the laboratory. Practically, its support presents a stupendous financial problem.

Without a doubt a solution will be found, but from all the indications the advent of television will not affect the present demand for competent radio writers. Authorities are unanimous in their belief that television will not supersede radio broadcasting in the immediate future, but will take its place beside radio, the screen and the stage as an additional medium of entertainment and information.

1 comment:

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