It's not the most likely candidate for a high-definition makeover, but starting March 17, stations will have the option to air CBS' Everybody Loves Raymond in hi-def.
Raymond will be the second off-net sitcom to hit the air in hi-def. (Warner Bros.' Two and a Half Men was first.) The task of going HD is more Herculean for Raymond, however, because Two and a Half Men has been shot in HD since its premiere. Raymond required remastering of its first three seasons to get it up to snuff. After that, the show went to high-definition production.
Two catalysts came together to make this happen. Stations told CBS Television Distribution that they would like to receive syndicated product in high definition. And the show's creator and executive producer, Phil Rosenthal, a self-described “tech geek,” was thrilled to help remaster the episodes himself, with the help of Burbank, Calif.-based Modern VideoFilm.
“I jumped up and down to hear that my little TV show was getting this royal treatment,” says Rosenthal. “I think it will pay off because everyone is getting HD TVs. When I'm watching TV, I look for content in HD, almost whether I'm interested in the show or not. This is the future, and it will be marvelous to have what we worked on preserved in high-definition.”
To remaster the first three seasons' 73 episodes, Rosenthal went through the shows frame by frame to make sure everything was perfect. “Every detail has been thought about,” he says. “You can clearly see every detail. There may be the occasional piece of scenery that looks fake, but that's part of the fun for the viewer.”
The process occasionally presented challenges for Rosenthal, who says that “the pilot was done very cheaply, when we were nobodies. When I went back and looked at it, the pilot looked much worse than even the rest of season one. But these guys at Modern VideoFilm took such painstaking effort that when they were done, it looked as good as our finale in season nine. If you could see that episode before and after, you wouldn't believe the difference.”
Like most sitcoms, Raymond is a multi-camera show where the action takes place on a few sets, and most of the humor and plot is driven by the actors and the writing. Unlike a cinematography-heavy show like Discovery's Planet Earth or an action-driven event like the Super Bowl, high-definition wouldn't seem to enhance the program. Still, TV stations are looking for as much HD programming as they can get going into next year's digital transition.
“It looks better and in this case it gives us a competitive advantage because it will be the only show in the time period in HD,” says Lew Leone, VP and general manager of Fox-owned WNYW (Fox) and WWOR (MyNetwork) New York. Raymond will start airing at 6:30 p.m. and midnight on WWOR in hi-def on March 17, the date the Fox stations are taking the show over from Tribune in several markets.
“We haven't heard much from other syndicators, but we will continue to ask them and push them,” says Leone.
Besides Raymond and Men, only two other shows, Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy!—produced by Sony and distributed by CBS—are offered in high definition. Those game shows are the only first-run syndicated shows in HD.
Sony's Seinfeld, King of Queens and other off-net sitcoms air on TBS' high-definition network, TBS HD, in upconverted hi-def. That means TBS converts a standard-definition picture to a 16:9 format so it fills a wide screen, but it isn't true HD. Those shows haven't been remastered yet, according to a Sony spokesperson.
“We want to be out front with the quality programs that we have,” says Bob Madden, president and chief operating officer of CBS Television Distribution. “I think you are going to see all of the major syndicated shows going to HD in the next 18 months.”
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Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.