Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Inside the bowels of TCM

Well, not quite. But there are times when I do wonder about the technical workings of TCM and the rest of its corporate brethren down in Atlanta. On Sunday, I was watching the end of It Happened One Night since it was on and I happen to like the ending. From a visual point of view, I particularly like the shot of Claudette Colbert running away from the altar towards her car, the long train of her wedding gown flowing behind her in the air like some low-lying cirrus cloud. What was really interesting, however, was what happened after the movie. Ben Mankiewicz came on talking about Norman Jewison's use of Topol to play Tevye, and helpfully informing us of the night dedicated to French actress Capucine coming up.

Oops. Somebody obviously played the wrong file. Looking through the TCM schedule, Fiddler on the Roof was followed by a pair of Capucine movies on Sunday, November 4. Now, I don't know quite how TCM's (or really, the corporate parent's) playback scheme works, other than evreything being digital nowadays; no sort of bulky videos. But obviously, typos can produce errors like this. A few years back, TCM actually showed an ad! No, not one of those ads disguised as a promo trying to get people to buy a video, but a 30-second automobile ad, played after the outro to a movie. The explanation given at the time, and it seems reasonable and accurate, is that when whoever typed in the codes for what files to play accidentally mixed up a 2 and a Z, thereby typing in the code for the car ad. (Canada, which uses alphanumeric postal codes, deliberately doesn't use the letters I and O, among others, because of their similarity to certain digits.) After all, we haven't seen another "regular" ad show up on TCM. But a similar code for two Ben Mankiewicz outros two weeks apart? I would have thought that unlikely, although I have to admit to having no idea exactly how they format the naming of their data.

My first thought would have been that TCM should name Robert and Ben's pieces by date, using what's known as the ISO 8601 date format of year followed by month and date, such that today's date would be 2012-11-20. (The reason behind dating this way is that it allows for much easier sorting: leading zeros are used in the month and date, making all dates eight characters without hyphens and ten with, and the sorting order is a perfect correlation to chronological order.) But that would only work for the intros and outros to movies. The movies themselves get played multiple times, and even a few intros (the Essentials pieces) get reused. Those would have to be named differently, defeating the purpose of dating the intros and outros. Ideally, you'd want something that's got a uniform length and a format that makes sorting the various types of pieces easy. There's also the problem that the corporate offices run the broadcast files for multiple channels, which is how the car ad showed up on TCM in the first place. I for one would be curious to know more about how TCM (well, frankly cable channels in general) make everything run so seamlessly the vast majority of the time.

Finally, you don't want to see how I name my blog posts when I save them to my local hard drive. Sorting? Finding information from a particular post? I think I've made that quite impossible.

No comments: