Some TV stars fear HDTV's sharp clarity
EmptyVanity, thy name is hi-def TV.
The holiday shopping season was expected to sharply boost the number of U.S. homes with high-definition televisions to nearly 33 million. In the eyes of a growing number of image-obsessed on-air personalities, that's 33 million clear reasons to be concerned.
Besides spectacular vistas and shockingly real playing fields, hi-def clarity puts any and all wrinkles, pimples and pores on display in well-lit bathroom-mirror detail.
Some TV types say big-screen HDTV could lead to the end of the extreme close-up as we know it. Others predict hi-def fears could soon be reflected in artists' contracts.
Diane Sawyer, the 61-year-old host of ABC's "Good Morning America," acknowledged the changing television landscape when her program began broadcasting in high-definition late last year. Indicating puffiness under her eyes, she told viewers: "They will see it right there."
Dissolve to the TV industry's behind-the-scenes pros, who are developing new ways to help the talent keep up appearances in today's hi-def world.
"The grain structure of film allows a softness that HD video tends not to have, posing more challenges, especially when it comes to capturing female faces," says Stephen McNutt, director of photography for the Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica."
"We seem not to care about seeing men in a rougher, more edgier way," he explains, "whereas females, we're used to seeing them in a softer, more appealing way. So there's a little more filtration needed, and you have to approach it from a different standpoint."
While lighting techniques have been helpful, new advances in cosmetic applications have done wonders, too, says Patricia Murray, "Battlestar's" head of makeup. Murray uses foundation and makeup that is airbrushed onto the skin, rather than by sponge or fingertip.
"For me, air brushing is very helpful for high definition when you want an even coverage," says Murray. "However, it's not ideal for every situation."
Murray explains: "We have a show that's very raw, and it's not so glamorous, so the application needs to be a little lighter because we allow the shine of the skin to come through; we don't cover the dark patches under the eyes as much. However, with other shows, you have to watch the amount of shine you allow because high definition picks that up quite a bit."
Of course, makeup alone won't stave off the HD glare. "Regular facials and a really good skin care is key," Murray says of her advice to cast members. "Drinking lots of water, avoiding coffee and cigarettes, exercise, all those things help the skin's natural glow."
Being show business, Botox injections and facelifts also continue, even though HDTV reveals those tight lines and plumped puckers in extreme clarity.
"Just about everything is more obvious in hi-def," says Sheila McKenna, founder of New York-based Kett Cosmetics, an airbrushed, HDTV-friendly makeup line used by some on "The View," "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," "Today," and all over CNN and ESPN.
McKenna notes that older news and entertainment personalities tend to be more concerned about how they look on HDTV, but younger celebrities don't always look so flattering in the format, either.
Some camera operators believe fears about HDTV exposure could bring an end to extreme close-ups on television shows.
"I think there's a danger area of saying the extreme close-up is not flattering -- it's a part of the grammar of television to do that," says Tom Houghton, director of photography for "Rescue Me." The Sony TV-produced show is shot in HD, but appears on FX, which is among a number of cable networks that still airs in standard definition.
"Maybe we don't want to be quite so close, now that people have bigger screens," Houghton adds. "We're evolving from what was once a 12-inch screen in black and white in the living room to a huge 57-inch home-theater screen, and that's a big difference in what you're going to see." "Certainly in the very beginning, no one wanted to work in HD," notes Dan Dugan, producer of the CW network's HD comedies "Girlfriends" and "The Game." "Everybody felt safe with what film has given us, and to go to something new, people are always afraid. But I think you'll find less opposition among the creative community now than five years ago."
Broadcast networks now offer the bulk of their prime-time programming and major sports coverage in HD. Cable provides some HD content, with a few channels that are dedicated to HD.
And a handful of local stations offer their newscasts in hi-def.
With the Federal Communications Commission mandate that TV networks move from analog to digital by 2009, talent agent Harry Gold says that concerns over HD may factor into some artists' contracts.
"You take a show like 'Desperate Housewives,' which is in really glossy high-definition. In order for those women to look as glamorous as they want to look, they need to really pay attention to how they're made up and how they're lit, what kinds of lenses are being used and all that kind of stuff," says Gold, president of TalentWorks. "They do have to have some say about how they look on screen."
Actress Kat Foster of the Fox HD comedy 'Til Death' sees things a bit differently, opting away from the newfangled airbrushed techniques for traditionally applied corrective foundations that, she says, give her a more natural look onscreen.
"It would behoove everyone to see the real celebrity, wrinkles and all," declares the 28-year-old Foster. "I think the more human we are, the more attractive we are to the people who watch us."
But will she feel the same way in 10 years?