One Man Television At The Network Level

A few weeks ago I wrote about my trip to Nashville to look into WKRN’s experiment with “Video Journalists.” One person, on his own, uses the latest technology to produce the kind of TV stories usually done by two or more people.

Tonight I’ve seen another example of one man television and it was fascinating. The show is Survivorman on Discovery/Science. This is a niche channel where huge audiences aren’t expected. The economics say programs have to be done on the cheap.

It would be tough to believe there’s anything on TV cheaper to produce than Survivoman!

I picked the show already in progress. The host, Les Stroud, was alone in the swamplands of Georgia’s Altahama River.

It was amazing, because Les really was living off the land. The video was gritty and the camera technique interesting. Instead of fixing a single camera or doing what most nature shows do… bring along an unseen cameraman who is never acknowledged, Les rolled multiple cameras at once.

The close in cameras were shooting very wide, allowing him to move objects into the frame. Other cameras were fixed on longer shots.

During the course of the show I saw Les catch, cook and eat a turtle and a snake. That did gross me out. It also let me more appreciate his real commitment to doing this reality show as a reality!

As the show progressed, Les became grungier. Unlike a ‘forced’ reality show, some problems, like the extreme overnight cold, righted themselves. There was no necessity to have problems build to a crescendo.

To make a real show about survival means being alone, running three to five cameras with all the set ups and tear downs, changing tapes, cleaning lenses, changing batteries and fixing gear ALONG WITH finding enough food and water to survive, building a shelter to protect from hypothermia, building a fire without matches. The camera work takes up about 65 percent of my time and the true survival leaves me filthy, wet, hungry and cold while I try to concentrate on good camera work and storytelling. It’s a heavy combination of tasks.

Considering I grew up in a New York City apartment, the show is a strange fit for me. Still, I’m hooked. The DVR is set to record the next one, Friday night.