Did Syndication Prints really look this bad?

Discussion in 'Visual Arts' started by goodiesguy, Jun 13, 2013.

  1. goodiesguy

    goodiesguy Boulful Sallad Thread Starter

    Location:
    New Zealand


    My god that looks awful. The DVD (and the tv repeats currently on kiwi tv for that matter) look pristine compared to this. The only thing this has going for it is that the sound is at the correct NTSC speed.

    Did syndication prints of TV shows always look this bad? Did other similar era shows like Gilligan's Island, Happy Days and Bewitched look this bad in syndication?
     
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  2. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host

    16mm Eastman, pretty crappy, yes but it depended on the Telecine.
     
  3. guy incognito

    guy incognito Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mee-chigan
    Here's WKBD-TV Detroit (another Field Communications-owned station, incidentally) ca. 1982. Around the 0:50 mark you see a really crummy-looking Star Trek print (not to mention the dreaded "technical difficulties"). My brother and I still faithfully tuned in every time, though.
     
  4. MLutthans

    MLutthans That's my spaghetti, Chewbacca! Staff

    Location:
    Marysville, WA
    Did they look that bad? Well...yes and no. There's some color-tint change due to fading on that clip, but as far as all the scuzz and the registration jitter (bob and weave), yep -- those were there. A lot of the movies that were 16mm sourced (which, for local broadcast, was most of them until, I'm guessing, 1984 or so) could look significantly WORSE than that, for a couple of reasons. 1.) Stations had "film libraries," so, for instance, "Ben-Hur" might air ONLY on channel 5 year after year, while "Winchester '73" might play ONLY on channel 11. The stations actually owned those prints, and each station had exclusive titles. Things would get REALLY ugly toward the ends of reels, as, I'm not exaggerating, some reels might have 7 or 8 cue marks at the end. It was bad. Compound this with the fact that the telecines that converted the projected image into an electronic one would often feature an automatic iris, so if one shot was mostly black, it would raise the gain to more of a "medium gray" level, but then if the next shot was mostly white, it would take a second or so for the iris to adjust, so brightness-gain levels were just all over the map.

    I still remember being SHOCKED (and I don't use that term lightly) when I saw Star Trek ("TOS" as the kids say) on a station while staying in Pullman, WA, and it was sourced from videotape mastered from the film masters (or close to it), rather than being sourced from a lame-o, chewed up 16mm syndication print like the broadcasts were on KSTW in Tacoma/Seattle. I think that was around 1985 or '86, and it was revelatory, as were the broadcasts of old movies like "Pride of the Yankees" on Showtime around that same time period. I had only ever seen that movie via the local film library 16mm broadcasts, and Showtime used properly-mastered video sources. What a difference!

    New 16mm prints, properly presented via good equipment, could look better than the sample you've got posted there, but most of them were pretty close to what you've got in that clip.
     
  5. bundee1

    bundee1 Active Member

    Location:
    Queens, New York
    My brother and I would break out laughing when the crappy copies of Gilligan's Island would distort and slow down the theme song. The moooooooooovie staaaaaar. WNYC Big Apple 5.

    Literally chopped and screwed
     
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  6. guy incognito

    guy incognito Forum Resident

    Location:
    Mee-chigan
    Here's WKBD-TV Detroit (another Field Communications-owned station, incidentally) ca. 1982. Around the 0:50 mark you see a really crummy-looking Star Trek print (not to mention the dreaded "technical difficulties"). My brother and I still faithfully tuned in every time, though.

     
  7. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    Yeah, that's a 16mm reduction print, composite video, done on a bad film chain, probably recorded on 1/2" video (like VHS or Beta). You'd be amazed how horrible most over-the-air syndicated shows looked in the 1970s and 1980s. Paramount was real cheap about this syndication stuff, and often farmed out this kind of work to crappy labs instead of CFI, who did the bulk of Paramount's TV work.

    I remember vividly in the mid-1980s when Paramount started to air the newly-mastered (for the first time) Star Trek episodes, which were all done from original 35mm interpositives. Fans actually complained, saying the picture was "too sharp" and revealed "too many flaws on the set and in the special effects" (!!!). I think the problem was, nobody had seen the show in 35mm since 1969, so they'd gotten used to the murky, blurry, ugly quality of 16mm reductions.

    [Doh! And I see that Matt above beat me to the Star Trek comment. All those shows were mastered by Modern Videofilm from their old facility on Sunset Blvd., only about 2 miles from Paramount over on Melrose. The later HD versions were done at 2K by I think IVC in Burbank and also CBS TV City in West LA.]

    I've wiped most of the 16mm off-air TV prints I used to have in my collection, but I held on to a handful of them, and they look really, really, really bad. I swear, some of this stuff looked like it was under water, it was so bad. Nobody cared, nobody noticed, because this is what people were used to. Bear in mind you're going from 35mm negative to a 35mm interpositive, then an optical reduction to a 16mm internegative, and then a final print was struck from that internegative. By that point, the image has been thoroughly stepped-on to the point where there's not a lot left.
     
  8. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer

    Location:
    The West
    Ah, memories! I get a kick out of the 'technical difficulties' in the Star Trek clip above. That was such a regular (and frustrating) occurrence.

    We watched this stuff on little TVs back in the day too. I remember watching the Brady Bunch on a 9" Zenith B&W portable in our living room. My parents kept the 'good' TV in their bedroom, which IIRC was probably a 19" at best. Sometimes they'd let us sit on their bed and watch the color TV in the afternoons, lots of cartoons and stuff. We'd all gather in there as a family in the evening for some TV viewing. Weird set up.

    At any rate, none of the crappy broadcast quality mattered! Crazy how spoiled we are now, eh?

    dan c
     
  9. HGN2001

    HGN2001 Mystery Picture Member

    Oh yeah. It brings back horrible memories.

    In Philly, we had the Field Communications sister station WKBS 48. They were the first to air STAR TREK in syndication, and after one go-round with edited-for-time versions, they ran a special promotion where they aired them all in sequence and in full, with the limited commercial breaks as originally on NBC. They even aired the network promos for the next episode. Their film chain was decent, and the show looked OK if not great - certainly not as good as when NBC aired it. At least their color balance was reasonably pleasing.

    After a decade of shuffling the show around from time-slot to time-slot, WKBS finally lost the rights to STAR TREK. So the local channel 17 picked it up and oh! - how bad it looked. The color balance made EVERYONE look like green Orion slaves, and Spock even more so. The prints were more beat up than the WKBS versions and it just looked awful. Unfortunately, THIS was the time that everyone began getting VHS recorders, so whatever copies floated around in Philly at the time were these awful channel 17 versions.

    I attempted to collect the series, but gave up after awhile, especially after comparing the prints on TV to the 10 episodes that were available from Paramount Home Video for rental and later sale. Those were sourced from some kind of videotape masters that looked so much cleaner, color-wise.

    It seems like every few years, we get closer to perfection in STAR TREK. I can't imagine anything will ever be better than the current Blu-rays. We've come a long way.

    Harry
     
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  10. JamieC

    JamieC Forum Resident

    Location:
    Detroit Mi USA
    I see I Love Lucy even today on cable and they look worse than my DVD copies.
     
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  11. lugnut2099

    lugnut2099 Forum Resident

    Location:
    Missouri
    I do wonder if some of these old masters still float around on the local-TV circuit. Like JamieC mentioned, I've seen some pretty big-name classic shows still looking not much better than that Brady clip on local stations from time to time even to this day. The Andy Griffith Show is a good example - looks amazing on DVD and the episodes TV Land airs look fine too, but a local Fox affiliate who runs two episodes every day at noon seems to have prints just as chewed up and dirty as anything being discussed here.
     
  12. HGN2001

    HGN2001 Mystery Picture Member

    I've always wondered if there are different tiers of ordering these shows from the syndicators. Maybe local stations can't afford to spend the cash to get the best-looking, best-mastered versions, so within their budgets, they settle for something lesser-quality but acceptable in cost.

    We have a local mostly-religion channel down here that plays a lot of family-friendly shows, LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, I LOVE LUCY, MARSHAL DILLON, PETTICOAT JUNCTION, etc., and some of the prints they have are pretty bad, yet the same shows air on MeTV and look better, and then there's the DVD versions that look superlative.

    I happened upon this channel running an OZZIE AND HARRIET the other day and the film wasn't going through the gate properly, so I could see the edge of the next frame at the top of my screen. The picture was virtually unwatchable and the sound would have been better coming from a wire-recorder.

    Harry
     
  13. MekkaGodzilla

    MekkaGodzilla Forum Resident

    Location:
    Westerville, Ohio
    The national cable channel The Hub currently airs really crusty looking prints of "Happy Days". On the plus side, all the original music is intact and full credits at the end.
     
  14. HGN2001

    HGN2001 Mystery Picture Member

    I recall a few times back in the late '80s/ early '90s, watching a movie on either PBS, maybe AMC, and it was a widescreen/letterbox print. When the movie ended, there were LaserDisc logos, which told me that the station was airing it from LD. The print of course was really nice - I think it might have been THE MUSIC MAN.

    Harry
     
  15. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host

    Some of you are too young to remember the really bad old days when they first started airing "CinemaScope" films on TV. They used to do it two ways. First way: No special lens so everyone looked really thin and 10 feet tall. That was dreadful. Second way: Use special lens so that both sides of the picture was cut off and you only saw the center. That was dreadful. I remember seeing THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY both ways. The main title looked like this:

    GH AND THE MI

    Later they started the pan and scan stuff but for a long time when I saw the Fox Cinemascope logo at the start of a film I flipped it off.
     
  16. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    I have no idea why Viacom is run so poorly that they can't send TV stations and cable channels the exact same master tapes used for I Love Lucy on home video. Even in Los Angeles, KTTV shows I Love Lucy nearly every day, and it's the same horrible 1980s-vintage analog composite transfer -- not the original negatives done more than a decade later. I bet you that Viacom has still not transferred the show in HD.

    Usually they showed optically panned/scanned prints, which were done in the lab especially for TV. Unfortunately, they didn't have the ability to do S-curve pans, so as a result, any pans back and forth were very abrupt and mechanical-looking. It's extremely rare they'd do a center-crop version, because I think even cheap, non-technical morons who worked in the TV syndication departments understood on some level that it's bad when things happen off-camera and ruin the story.

    Unfortunately... doing a pan/scan on the print also required going down two more optical generations, so the resultant image looked even worse than a normal 16mm reduction print. It's amazing there was any picture left at all by that point.
     
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  17. HGN2001

    HGN2001 Mystery Picture Member

    LOL :uhhuh:


    [INEMASCOP] !!!

    Harry
     
  18. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host

    Yeah, they would show "Heaven Knows Mr. Allison" and I'd never see Deborah Kerr once.
     
  19. CusBlues

    CusBlues Forum Resident

    I remember, years ago, watching a Vincent Price movie, and about halfway through, everyone got tall and thin. At the time, I just thought it was the way the movie was supposed to be.

    I assumbe by "flipped it off" you mean turned off the TV?
     
  20. Dan C

    Dan C Forum Fotographer

    Location:
    The West
    I've seen that look before so some stations must've still been doing that up through the early-80s. Shockingly awful.

    dan c
     
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  21. IronWaffle

    IronWaffle The brief elaboration of a tube

    Even growing up in the mid- '80s I remember seeing some widescreen (I'm guessing 2:35.1) movies on my local UHF channel where they did that. The first time I heard the term "Spaghetti western" I swear I thought it was a reference to Clint Eastwood who, already a toothpick, was scary scarecrow skinny when I first saw bits of The Good, the Bad & the Ugly on WDCA 20.
     
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  22. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Audiophile Music Mastering Your Host

    A few times in LA we got lucky in the 1960's and a "processed" 16mm print (usually from WB dist.) was broadcast. This was a "flat" print of a scope film that had black bars at the top and bottom of the screen so that you could see most of the actual picture. This was 20 years before this caught on but even as a kid I realized that it was a good thing. When I finally saw THE HIGH AND THE MIGHTY like this on channel 9 in 1966 I could actually see what was going on in the movie for the first time.
     
  23. Michelle66

    Michelle66 Forum Resident

    I didn't think the BB clip looked too bad - perfectly watchable.

    And we did watch stuff that looked like this. Every day.

    Why? Because it was after school, and it was FREE.

    Give me 70's syndication prints to the current time-compressed, hacked-up-for-more-commercials, "bug" infested junk shown today.
     
  24. Vidiot

    Vidiot Now in 4K HDR!

    Location:
    Hollywood, USA
    The joke we had about the pan/scan on Star Wars was, "this is the version without Chewbacca or R2D2," because either character was always getting panned right out of the shot.

    Whenever I ran into a problem with pan/scan when we were mastering the job, the director or editor would inevitably say, "god, this is so difficult." And I would quip, "yes, it's as if this was not shot for television!"

    I actually think this was very bad for broadcast television. You figure, at best, maybe 450 lines actually got received by an average viewer. Assuming normal blooming and cut-off, we're lucky if 350 lines actually made it to the CRT. Then, you're throwing away 45% of the image for borders at the top and bottom... which means you wind up with about 150 lines of actual picture. And then lots of ignorant viewers would call in and complain, "there's black bars at the top and bottom of the screen! They must be covering up some of the picture!" Not good in standard def. I don't think letterboxing was effective on a 4x3 screen.

    I do think it works fine on a 16x9 HD set, partly because the resolution is so much higher, partly because it's digital and the losses are much smaller, and also partly because the screen is already 25% wider than a 4x3 set, so you're only losing about 20% of the picture to blanking.

    No question, any presentation of a scope film on TV is going to have compromises. Don't forget that all the pre-1958 CinemaScope films were 2.55, which is even wider.
     
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  25. power popper

    power popper Well-Known Member

    The Happy Days prints I see on TV today are dreadful. They look no better than the syndication prints I watched on my then-local station -- WCSC in Charleston, S.C. -- in the mid-'80s or so. I have a feeling Paramount simply hasn't done any restoration work on the series beyond the first four seasons, which are on DVD. I haven't seen those, so I can't speak to their quality.
     
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