By Alina Adams – Originally published on Soap Opera 451.
ABC’s veteran figure skating director, Doug Wilson, has a new book out, The World Was Our Stage (click the link at the bottom of the post to buy).
Almost fifteen years ago, I interviewed Doug for my own book, Inside Figure Skating. Now, in honor of his autobiography, I am excerpting his insights from the chapter Lights, Camera, Axel: How Television Changed Figure Skating.
And enjoy Part #4, below:
At the 1988 Olympics, the plan was to make Russian Pair skater Ekaterina Gordeeva, the Olga Korbut, media-darling of the show. It was a fine plan, hampered by the fact that Pairs was, and typically is, the first discipline to finish competition. Meaning an immense build-up was impossible. Undaunted, television refused to abstain from their scheme, so that, even though she’d already won the gold, Katya stayed on the air for the duration of the Games, whether she was walking around the village, or simply sitting in the stands.
Another plan that didn’t come off quite as it was supposed to was Doug Wilson’s coverage of Brian Boitano’s Long Program. Wilson was determined to catch the definite head-turn at the start of the routine, in all its “Napoleon” glory. But, as it turned out, “I’d planned an opening shot, a first shot of his face, before the head-turn, but, because something happened prior to his going out on the ice, the camera I’d planned to use was not available. I had to use another one, in the left corner. It turned out to be a better shot than what I planned. Which, again, proves that if you really work hard and do your homework, it’s amazing how lucky you can get.”
At eligible competitions, television producers try their best to be unobtrusive and not disturb the natural rhythm of the sport. Yet, at a live event, a production assistant is often stationed by the judges’ desk to insure that marks are revealed at television’s convenience. A nervous skater may be sitting in the kiss-and-cry area, waiting to see results that will inevitably affect the rest of their life. But, if television happens to be in a commercial at the moment, the skater will just have to wait a tad longer.
For professional competitions, on the other hand, television doesn’t mind getting involved, operating on the philosophy that the skaters and producers are working together to present the best show possible. For instance, at the 1995 Challenge of Champions, Wilson evokes, “(1994 World Champion from Japan) Yuka Sato had a moment of presentation which was on one side of the arena, between what would be the blue (hockey) line and the red line. I presumptuously asked if she thought she might be able to re-choreograph that a little, so when she stopped to make that presentation, she was at the red line position, directly in front of my camera. There’s a no-man’s land between center ice and the corner, where we have no camera. Very often, great skaters — because when they skate in arenas they want to cover the whole audience — will stand in that position, making eye-contact with the audience. And all I see is an ear. They’re looking away. What they want to do to the audience of 1,000 people in front of them, they’re not doing to the TV audience that’s ten million people watching center-ice. If they’re about to present themselves to the world, it’s better if we see their faces.”
However, sometimes the face television presents to the world is not necessarily the one the skater wants…
More from Doug Wilson on this blog, shortly…