It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas – Off Message 16

Now the taxman has just done his annual bout of serious damage to all us freelancers’ bank balances – as I said to someone here recently, when you tot up your figures each year you either owe money or are broke; neither are particularly good news – it is indeed beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

And the festive season is a particularly weird period in TV and radio land.

Someone rang the Mooney office in RTÉ last week to see if we could use our powers of persuasion to get the television schedulers to show the 1940 American romantic comedy film, The Shop Around the Corner over Christmas after Michael Doherty from the RTÉ Guide gave it a glowing mention on the show.

They were genuinely shocked when I told them that the good folk in RTÉ Television plan their Xmas calendar many, many months in advance.

As do all broadcasters, of course; just like retailers, you may only get to consume their seasonal goodies over a very short stretch but behind the scenes it’s all been a long time in the planning.

I remember many years ago when I was just starting out in the industry bumping into a mate in town one fine summer’s day who was a step or two ahead of me in his TV career and asking him what he was at.

He was directing a series of videos for The Chieftains for some Christmas special, he said.

“Wow,” I thought, “that’s an age away.”

I was wrong of course; by the time it was shot, edited, approved, packaged and marketed, people would be just about starting to hit the shops for their annual end-of-year present-buying wig out.

Thinking about it, this also meant The Chieftains had actually recorded this bevy of undoubted aural Xmas delights even earlier that year, probably in the spring. How bizarre an out-of-sync studio session must that have been?

This year I’ll be working right up til the big day itself.

At the moment the plan is to finish producing on Mooney on RTÉ Radio 1 – where I’ve been freelancing on and off since early summer – on the afternoon of the 24th, by then having also wrapped one of a few pre-recorded Mooney specials going out the week after Christmas and a one-off songwriting music programme I’m simultaneously producing for Radio 1 with 2fm’s Paddy McKenna and IMRO, the Irish Music Rights Organisation, for transmission on New Year’s Day.

It hasn’t always been this close to the Christmas-day line.

This time last year we’d started our run of You Couldn’t Make It Up, the 10-part comedy news panel series for Newstalk which we recorded on Fridays and edited on Saturdays for Sunday evenings TX from late November through early February.

A quick glance at last year’s calendar tells me we closed up shop on Saturday December 21st. However we were back recording again on the 27th so I’m pretty sure we were all keeping an eye out for relevant news stories even while gorging on the Quality Streets.

In 2009, 2010 and 2011 I produced or produced/directed Now That’s What You Called News, a trio of end-of-year news round ups for RTÉ ONE television based on the stories we searched for online each year.

To ensure they were as up-to-date as possible each year we delivered the final product to RTÉ each December 23rd, about as close to our transmission slots of either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day as was practical.

It meant pulling one or two editing all-nighters, pretty much par for the course for programmes that have similarly specific immovable deadlines to hit. The things we do for you guys.

I’ve even worked on Christmas day – if you can call playing records ‘work’.

During the years I used fill in for Dave Fanning on 2fm I would often do a few hours for the station on December 25th, which, despite the day that was in it, I loved as it was the perfect excuse to get out of the noisy homestead for the afternoon or evening.

The above-the-normal-rate pay check wasn’t bad either.

Working on Christmas is one thing; working around it is quiet another.

Every year on Head 2 Toe dealing with the festive season required almost military planning. We shot about three to five weeks ahead of transmission which meant that much of the footage that went out during the early parts of the Christmas period was shot before the real hard-sell madness had set in and wouldn’t have had much, if any, festive-spirit lights, decorations or ads in the background.

A little judicious set-decoration was often required.

Likewise immediately post-Christmas everywhere still had seasonal garlands on display but what we were filming wasn’t due to hit your TV screens until well into January, by which time of course most folks’ baubles would be safely packed away in the attic for another 11 months.

The trick then was to keep the glittering shaggers out of sight, sometimes by clever framing, sometimes by deliberately doing non-festive stories in blatantly non-festive locations.

Both necessitated careful preparation…and not a little luck.

Of course the ubiquitous brash January sales signs that then appeared meant similar bouts of frustrating before-and-after coordination.

And for the most part I seem to remember we got away with it. I’m sure someone’ll remind me of any time we didn’t.

Anyway, here we are with another year of broadcasting almost done and dusted.

As the young people undoubtedly say – perhaps – may you have a cool yule…and a gear new year…ouch, sorry.

See y’all on the other side.

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2 Comments. Leave new

  • Very good article and explains why the content producers would be knocking of the doors of us technologists to deliver the new idea and mechanism to deliver the contents one to two years before the event would be broadcast. When the “Voice of Holland” was launched, the producers of the program came to our technology department asking for an on-line voting mechanism and a little red button to make the content more interactive. Easy, well sort of. Nothing that couldn’t be solved with a dozen developers and a lot of late nights.

    My point. Christmas on TV (2017) requires years of planning in advance, not just from the storyboards designers, content producers but also from the people that support the platform that make the content delivery possible.

    Your article captures a real truth on the complexity behind the content. The funny part is that even the content producers don’t see the planning required in the tools that make the program possible.


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