It was during the opening sequence to Jennifer Lebeau’s fine 2011 documentary on Simon & Garfunkel and the making of their legendary album ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ (BBC ‘Imagine, The Harmony Game’) that Paul Simon casually voiced to camera that Simon & Garfunkel were in ‘the harmony game’. Writing songs and making records.
The documentary then proceeded to ripple and articulate compelling insight, edited and presented by the BBC’s Alan Yentob, into what that meant in terms of both the creative process and the commitment to the highest production values in making the record, innovating to push the boundaries. Focusing on content plus performance, track by track.
So, here’s the analogy – the making of an exemplary, ‘good’ album such as ‘Bridge over Troubled Water’ speaks to everything that makes good, enjoyable TV for an audience, scene by scene, frame by frame. Yes, and no surprises so far- in well-produced broadcast TV productions, creative and production processes similarly integrate to deliver ‘good TV’ and have done for years.
But this approach to TV is now increasingly challenged as TV viewing behaviours become more ‘social’ (multi-screen), more distracted. The challenge comes from the ‘convergence’ of broadcast TV and ‘online’ / ‘mobile’ (“digital”) in the ‘connected’ TV world and this remains a bumpy junction with both sets of interests creatively colliding for viewer attention, and remain anything but ‘in harmony’ in front of that viewer.
If Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel, two unique artists and voices can work as a duo in complete performance harmony to make a great album … what is the transferable learning for two screens in the TV world, from one duo to another.
The advent of so-called “second-screen” TV apps has surfaced a creative problem that prevents this harmony from organically happening – it has exposed the imagination gap that exists in TV formats for the connected generation and the lack of relevant creative and production skills to begin to address it.
Bridge over Troubled Water can be seen, rightly, as a ‘content plus performance’ masterpiece, stand-out songs, deftly sequenced, innovatively produced, and faultlessly engineered. Most cited is the track ‘The Boxer’- over 100 hours to record across multiple locations, taking ‘content’ craftsmanship and production perfection to a new standard.
The ‘content’ itself – the songs – is king; the story-telling, the lyrics, the melodies, the chord structures, the rhythm and tempo. The song is then enhanced in production with unique vocals, beautiful harmonies, all carefully synchronised in a good groove for full performance effect
And the core team of musicians were a hand-picked, tight unit of proven exponents in their art and the sound engineer, Roy Halee was top of his game. This combined know-how was crucial to the delivery of the performance now cast in history on the released recording.
So, if you too are serious about two-screen TV, maybe seek out and watch ‘The Harmony Game’ with a view to re-thinking what makes a good TV show in a future world of well-designed dual-screen TV formats.
Contact : Keith Johnson
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