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Behind the Scenes: Mastering Live Event Coverage in Television Production

Behind the Scenes: Mastering Live Event Coverage in Television Production

Live event production can be unpredictable, exciting, and fun. Anything that goes wrong all happens as the camera rolls and the audience is watching.

There is no room for maneuver and as a TV producer, having the ability to think on your feet is essential.

“The only way to handle it is to face any challenge or unforeseen circumstance head-on,” says Claire Mooney.

“It also helps if you have put meticulous planning in place and you can pivot swiftly.”

There is no doubt Mooney knows what she is talking about. With 15 years of experience as a TV producer. She has not only overseen three-hour-long live post-Oscar broadcasts but also covered events such as (mass shootings, hurricanes, and the Malibu fires from the frontline.

Mooney is also currently the Supervising TV Producer for The Oscars Live on ITV, hosted by the iconic Jonathan Ross. It is one of the most challenging live TV awards ceremonies to cover in the world.

She says there are key areas where experience and expertise are essential to make a live TV event go smoothly: “Live TV production is always challenging due to its time-sensitive nature. You have to keep up with the changing dynamics, especially with sensitive topics, and be able to pivot at a moment’s notice. These are all significant parts of the job.”

Mooney, who is a film and television voting member of BAFTA, and a member of the Telly Awards Judging Council, cites team management and communication as one vital component.

“A successful live broadcast hinges on the seamless collaboration of the team,” Mooney says.

“From camera operators and sound technicians to directors and producers, effective team management ensures that every member understands their responsibilities and how their role fits into the larger production.”

Recalling her experience managing a three-hour live broadcast for British TV breakfast show Good Morning Britain, she says clear leadership and structured team management were crucial: *We were in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel for The Oscars which was a tough task. As the only producer on the ground up until days before, organizing the set, contributors, logistics and the eight-hour time difference was a juggle. There was always a problem that we could never predict – but it was a big success.”

Mooney adds communication, both in the planning and execution stages, is key to this process: “You have to consider more than just verbal instructions; it requires a comprehensive system of cues, signals, and technology-assisted communication like headsets and monitors,” she says.

“You are in an environment where immediate reaction is required. Examples are live news reporting in dynamic situations,” Mooney adds.

“For instance, during a breaking news event, the ability of the production team to communicate effectively under pressure can make the difference between a broadcast that is informative and coherent and one that is chaotic and confusing.”

In essence, Mooney says team management and communication are the bedrocks of live TV production: “They enable a diverse group of professionals to work harmoniously under tight deadlines and unpredictable conditions, ensuring that the final broadcast is a cohesive and engaging product.”

Planning and execution also play a large part in having a seamless broadcast. This process involves scripting, setting up the right equipment, coordinating with the crew, and rehearsing to anticipate potential challenges.

Execution, then, is about managing these elements in real time, often making split-second decisions.

Mooney says a great example of dealing with a mishap while on air was when the wrong Best Picture winner was announced at the 2017 Oscars:

“They were handling multiple live feeds on an event that was being broadcast to millions.”

“However the production team swiftly corrected the mistake on air, demonstrating their ability to handle unforeseen events effectively. Planning and execution worked hand-in-hand to create a successful live TV broadcast, balancing the prepared elements with the unpredictable nature of live events.”

Adapting to changing environments is also crucial in live TV production, as it demands real-time problem-solving and flexibility.

Mooney has had experience of live news reporting of natural disasters, including the deadly Camp Fire in northern California.

She says: “You have to quickly adjust to rapidly changing circumstances, ensuring both the safety of the crew and the clarity of the information being broadcast. This might involve relocating to a safer area or improvising with equipment to capture crucial footage.”

She adds working with a crew that has a diverse skill set can really help in these types of situations: “Versatility allows the team to handle various aspects of production, from technical troubleshooting to creative content development. Continuous training and professional development are key to maintaining a skilled and adaptable team.”

  • And, as is the nature of doing something as it happens, live events can be unpredictable.
  • Mooney says risk management is essential and having a contingency plan for technical failures, weather disruptions, and other challenges can make or break coverage.
  • “It is not always possible, but if you can do a rehearsal that helps,” says Mooney.
  • “Equipment checks can also mitigate risks. Outdoor events can require adaptation to weather conditions and natural lighting on the day. I always try to plan for these variables, working with the team to ensure equipment is weather-proof and lighting is adequate.”
  • But it is not just the weather and natural environment that needs to be considered: “When covering events in diverse settings, it’s important to be culturally sensitive and aware,” says Mooney.

“People may have just lost their home or a loved one, and being able to approach their situation sensitively is essential.

  • “You need to have an understanding of local customs and languages, which can influence the approach to coverage and communication with the audience.”

Finally, Claire adds that even with a live TV event whether it is coverage of a natural disaster or a political issue, for example, an election, it is important to consider the viewer’s experience and preferences.

Mooney says: “Using interactive elements like social media integration, real-time polling, and audience participation segments can engage the audience and make the coverage more relatable.”

Ross King (MBE) is the US Correspondent for the British television channel ITV. He has worked with Mooney on multiple live products and says the skillset to manage the high pressure is very specific: “You have to be very detail-oriented and go the extra mile to get the job done. Claire can do this. I would say she is one of the finest in our field.

King adds: “It is hard to find people who are calm and clear in a highly pressurized situation and this is exactly what is needed for live TV. Claire demonstrates the ability to not only manage any eventuality in a live broadcast in a measured way but she even removes the stress from the situation.

“She is a complete professional which is what is needed. And at the same time, she can make it fun.“

Nick Rylance, the Head of Film at ITV Studios, believes adapting to changing environments in live TV event coverage demands a combination of skills that not every producer has.

Revealing that not everyone has the capability to showcase all of these skills he cites Mooney as the perfect example of a person who can manage every pressure and difficulty with a calm approach: “Claire’s arrival at GMTV television as an entertainment producer was nothing short of transformative. Her fresh, honest, and natural attitude immediately captured everyone’s attention, especially during a time of significant company changes,” he says.

“Her presence was like a ray of light, particularly as the team navigated the challenges of relocation and renovation.”

He adds Mooney is also very good at dealing with the nuances of internal and external pressures – a prerequisite for handling live event coverage: “We don’t just have external talent and producers in the industry, but internally we have our own hierarchy, and that can sometimes lead to our own situations.

“Claire brings a sense of calm and perspective, reminding everyone that, at the end of the day, it’s all about entertainment.”

Rylance goes on to explain that it is a combination of professional acumen and personal qualities that makes a good live event producer a great producer: “Colleagues deeply value Claire’s skills and abilities. Her approachability and willingness to collaborate make her a trusted confidante and advisor. She can translate and communicate effectively across different cultures, which is crucial, especially when producing content for diverse audiences.”

Mooney has also had the opportunity to work with producers at the esteemed TV network NBC.

One longtime colleague from NBC News who has known her since 2012 says: “From the moment I met Claire it became clear what a quick learner and how observant she is.

“I have worked with Claire on dozens of awards shows including the Emmys, Grammys, Golden Globes, and Oscars and we have also covered multiple breaking news stories together.

“As a field producer, she is always organized and efficient but what stands out the most is her ability to deal with challenges professionally. Most of these remotes had logistical and editorial complications, and Claire always handled them calmly and with a sense of humor. I never see her rattled; even in difficult situations and when those around her are clearly stressed.

“I’ve done several live shots with her when just minutes before air, we’ve had technical issues or her correspondent isn’t ready and to my amazement, Claire has stayed calm and never raises her voice.”

“As a live event TV producer, Mooney demonstrates if you have the ability to combine technological savvy, flexible planning, as well as manage a skilled team, it is clear any issues that could arise can be handled smoothly and efficiently.


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