By Rich Desimone, Managing Director, JAG, George Fairfield, Station Manager, Piscataway TV and Doug Seidel, Production Supervisor, PCTV
What an amazing JAG Awards program produced and distributed by PCTV, Piscataway Township, NJ! The program went off without a hitch, and we want to take a look at how George Fairfield, Station Manager and staff Doug Seidel and Brian Belzer dealt with the obstacles in doing a live show in a virtual environment.
In the beginning, the JAG Awards show was a live event with two co-hosts. There were video “roll ins” for each category and winners were invited on stage to receive their awards. In more recent years, JAG has added entertainment and guest presenters. The idea of recording them was not ever considered. But, of course, this time the JAG Awards needed to be a live recorded virtual event! This meant producing the show from one location. Most towns are currently recording some kind of interview show, and Piscataway is one of the few that produces a live production “call-in” show. This made Piscataway a great location for a Zoom production of the JAG Awards as part of JAG’s Eastern Video Expo.
Piscataway is thought to be the home of the Jersey Access Group. It was in their studio 22 years earlier that Debbe Gist, then Station Manager, invited the personnel of 10 local community TV stations to a meeting to see if there might be some value in uniting to provide assistance to each other. Woodbridge, Metuchen, and East Brunswick attended that first meeting and would become part of the 12 stations that would constitute The Jersey Assess Group.
So it is not surprising that Piscataway would once again take the lead in producing a more challenging event than had ever been attempted. The basic elements of the show would be like any other awards show. We would need a host, title graphic, a script, and video roll-ins of the nominated content. There would need to be remoted pieces added, the entertainment, the audience, and cut-a-ways to the winners. More to test…..more to go wrong.
The production personnel included a script writer, set designer, graphic developer, two hosts, 2 camera operators, floor manager, technical director, teleprompter operator, and a zoom meeting director. Piscataway only has three staff members but they also have one of the most active volunteer groups in the state.
George Fairfield co-hosted the show with Sam Urash, a volunteer. Brian Belzer served as the director of the show that PCTV was feeding out to Zoom from the studio. Longtime volunteer and Piscataway Councilman Jim Bullard and Ken Morgan operated cameras. Elio Selvaggio ran the teleprompter, and one of our youngest volunteers and JAG Award committee member Ronni Garret ran audio. Video roll ins, the script, and most preproduction was done by George Fairfield with assistance from the JAG awards committee. Doug Seidel and Simon Mandal shared turns spotlighting what the audience on Zoom would see.
Along with preparing for the show Piscataway served as master control for the Eastern Video Expo and on day 1 managed 20 Zoom events using five computers and one staff member sliding between them. Day one went well so there was a confidence going into day 2 that things would be as successful. On Day 2, however, the day of the show began with a power outage. The backup generators started as expected and the station’s system all rebooted without difficulty. Though there was some concern about managing the 17 events scheduled for the day while on backup generator, the production crew was unaware of a production issue which was growing.
A well managed production always has a backup plan. The backup plan for the Expo was created when Anthony Pagliuco, Senior Producer with East Brunswick TV, offered their station if needed. The question was at what time we should make the decision to stay or move the location? Shortly before making the decision, PCTV’s power was restored and all was right again. Or was it?,….Remember the “growing issue” that was referred to earlier? The best that can be determined is that with the power going on and off and the electrical storms around, static electricity was building up in some of the equipment. Thirty minutes before the JAG Awards Red Carpet, the PCTV control room lost the ability to feed the studio to Zoom. This was the moment that many decided that they hated doing (yet secretly loved) LIVE events. With no time to spare, the crew jumped in to critical mode and the problem is tracked to the HD capture card. It is quickly replaced and George calls, “Show Time”. And the rest, as we are happy to say, is history.
You can watch the red carpet and awards show on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7KiPKzGrYM.
When it was all over, I asked George what it was that made it all work. He said “the volunteers…..without their energy and desire, an event like the JAG Awards Show would never have worked. We owe all those that volunteer in support of community our thanks.”