A few months ago, I wrote a blog post called “10 Things I Learned About Cable Show Production.” It covered important lessons I learned while producing and shooting a cable show pilot.
At the time I wrote that post, I didn’t realize the fun was just beginning.
The biggest challenge in creating a new cable show is in post production, during the editing process. That’s when all the real decisions are made—the look of the show, the music, the graphics and more.
Here are my Top 10 Tips for Editing a Cable Show:
1. Start With a Segment Outline
Part of the planning phase of show development includes mapping out the interviews, host shots and dialogue sequences and determining a logical order for them.
That’s how you script out and shoot the transitions you need.
Creating a segment outline is a similar, but just-as-necessary step. That’s where you decide which interviews and subjects are covered in each segment of the show.
Every show is basically a collection of segments, separated by commercial breaks. Each cable network has guidelines for their shows, that spell out how many segments and the exact length for each.
A one-hour show, for example, may have seven segments total, between 4 and 8 minutes in length.
2. Organize Footage by Segment
Once you have a segment outline, the next step is to start organizing the footage. I do that by creating folders within the editing program, one for each segment. Then I go through the footage, shot by shot, and drag each file to the appropriate folder. I also name each file so similar shots will group together—for example, “Cardin Interview Close” and “Cardin Interview Wide.”
Once complete, I have all the interviews, transitions, sound files, and B Roll shots, divided up by segment.
If you aren’t sure where some shots should go, create an extra folder called “Misc B Roll.” That’s where you can put the more versatile footage—landscapes, time lapse shots, etc.
Hopefully, each folder will have similar amounts of footage. If one folder has way more than the others, you may need to rethink your segment outline. Maybe the big folder can be divided into two, or some of the shots can move.
Thinking about it now will save editing time later.
3. Design a Logo and Show Graphics
The next step (or the first step, if you want to get a head start) is to develop a graphic look for the show. That includes a logo, title graphics, a color scheme, and other design elements.
The graphics required depend on the concept of the show. For example, Fixer Upper uses an animated overlay to depict changes to a floorpan or room layout. Chopped uses graphics to list the contents of each food basket.
The logo should work as a full-screen element (like in a title sequence) as well as reduced down in size to a smaller version (a “bug” in the bottom corner of the screen). If the type isn’t readable at the smaller size, redesign the logo.
4. Start the Edit by Grabbing Attention
The beginning of any show needs to grab the viewers’ attention, and make them want to watch more before they reach for the remote.
A common technique for doing this is an opening sequence. That’s a short (less than a minute long), fast-paced opening that gives a taste of things to come—the best B-Roll shots, the funniest one liners, the most dramatic reactions.
On Fixer Upper, they use the big reveal—excited homeowners seeing their new home for the first time. That’s the emotional hook for the entire show, and they use it to end, and begin, each episode.
5. Create a Title Sequence
On most cable shows, the attention-grabbing opening leads directly into a title sequence—that’s a short (15 to 30 seconds long) sequence that defines the show and explains its core concept.
On Chopped, the title sequence is where host Ted Allen says “When modern chefs compete, who will win the ten thousand dollar prize, and who will be chopped?”
It’s the premise of the show, encapsulated into a short statement that ends with the show’s name and logo.
6. Choose a Music Direction
Music is an important tool. It sets the pacing of the edit, and defines the show’s overall mood.
Is the show happy and upbeat? Or calm and relaxing? When you watch the show’s footage, do you hear a heavy metal guitar or a simple acoustic riff?
The right music can heighten a show’s drama, accentuate its comedy, or pump up the excitement.
Remember, the goal here isn’t finding a single music track that works—it’s defining an entire genre. You’ll need dozens of different tracks to introduce segments, transition to new subjects, and generally keep things moving.
7. Focus on One Segment at a Time
Editing an hour-long show can be quite a challenge. Working your way through all the different shots, locations, interviews and camera angles, it’s easy to lose focus and start to feel overwhelmed.
My best advice: don’t think about filling sixty minutes of content. Focus on the first seven.
In my experience, the fastest way to edit interviews and dialog sequences is to sync all the footage. That means lining up the different camera angles and sound files so you’ve got all the elements from each take, in sync.
If you start pulling selects—the best bits and pieces of each take—you’ll have to sync sound and other camera angles on each one, which will take a lot more time.
In Adobe Premiere Pro, I stack the different files using separate video and audio layers. Once they’re synced up, you can choose the right camera angle later.
8. Hire a Pro for the Sound Mix
I’ve been producing radio and editing sound for years, but the first time I edited a cable show, I made lots of audio mistakes.
The difference is the quality of the audio source. Editing files recorded in a studio is relatively simple, but on location, you’re going to run into background noise, changes in room ambience, and more.
In many ways, the sound mix is dependent on the quality of the audio captured during production. If you’ve got trucks and airplanes in the background on every take, there’s not much you can do. But professional audio people can occasionally perform miracles.
9. End Each Segment With a Teaser
Cable networks like viewers to keep watching past the commercial break, so a lot of shows use graphics to tease the next segment. Usually they cut to an upcoming location or dialog exchange, and graphics fill in the rest.
“Not So Tiny Homes. Coming Up Next!”
I don’t know if this helps retain viewers, but a lot of shows do it.
10. Take the Time to Get the Color Right
For me, the most time-intensive part of editing a cable show is color correcting and color matching footage. No matter what type show you’re working on, you’re going to be cutting from wide shots to close-ups, different camera angles, and different lighting.
Shooting outdoors in natural light solves a lot of problems (you would think) but what happens when the sun goes behind a cloud?
A good editor can cut around the badly exposed footage and adjust the brightness, contrast, white balance, sharpness and color on individual shots. If you have the budget, I recommend seeking professional help.