Chicago Hope 1st Prime-Time Drama in HDTV

Media giant CBS continues to push the high-definition envelope with the first-ever broadcast of a prime-time dramatic series in HDTV. "The Other Cheek," the episode of Chicago Hope that aired last Wednesday, November 18, was produced by 20th Century Fox Television in cooperation with Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Professional Company using an extensive array of Sony's new HD equipment. It was relayed to 11 CBS affiliates, and it was available on the DirecTV satellite service. The program was broadcast in 1920x1080i, the highest-resolution version of HDTV.

Some segments of the show were shot on 35 mm film and transferred to HD video tape. Others went directly onto tape, after which they were combined into a high-definition master. Edward Nassour, senior vice president of 20th Century Fox Television Post Production, explains that the story line of the "The Other Cheek" episode lent itself to this unique marriage of video and film.

"The story line is told mainly from the point of view of a news crew, and it needed to have a feel other than what film could provide," Nassour says. "Therefore, we decided to shoot the majority of the episode on HD video. The use of the Sony HD camera and recording gave the episode the look and feel of a news magazine, with seamless transitions to film."

James Bagdonas, ASC, director of photography for Chicago Hope, says it was easy to become acclimated to the Sony HDC-750 cameras. "The only major difference between using film and shooting in high-definition in the indoor hospital set was related to lighting intensity, which was easily adjusted. The cameras performed flawlessly, they were simple to set up, and the high-definition image quality was spectacular."

All the studio gear---which included two Sony HDC-750 digital hi-def cameras, an HDCAM HDW-500 videotape recorder, two HDM-14E5U monitors, and one BVM-20F1U monitor---was supplied by Plus 8 Video of Burbank, California. Post-production was done in the High Definition Lab at Hollywood's LaserPacific using Sony's HDS-7000 digital production switcher, HDME-7000 multi-effects unit, HDW-500 VTRs, and HDM-2830 and HDM-20E1U hi-def monitors. Sony's HDCAM videotape allowed LaserPacific editors to mimic the look and feel of news footage.

According to Jim Hart, 20th Century Fox Television co-executive producer for Chicago Hope, "Creating this episode in digital high-definition really gave the show a new and dynamic look, something we are continually striving for. Because high-definition equipment providers such as Plus 8 Video and production houses like LaserPacific are veterans in the field of high-definition production, the integration of HD into our production schedule was a seamless process."

"We are excited that our advanced High Definition Video System and HDCAM format played a key role in this first prime-time 1920x1080 HD transmission by CBS, from acquisition through post production," says Robert Ott, vice president of VTR products and marketing for Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Professional Company. "Also, as was clearly demonstrated by this episode of Chicago Hope, producers can now easily integrate both high-definition videotape and film mediums to extend creativity in television production."

Among the major commercial networks, CBS is at the forefront of HDTV. The company has already broadcast one National Football League game in 1920x1080i, and it has plans for three more (see previous story). In the next one, which takes place in Buffalo, New York on December 19, the New York Jets will play the Buffalo Bills for the second time this season.