By Rasha Drachkovitch
CEO & Co-Founder
STUDIO CITY, CALIF.—My wife and I started 44 Blue back in 1984, and it has been a great journey. We’ve been part of the evolving reality TV genre over the past three decades, making a name for 44 Blue by developing and producing non-scripted shows for cable networks such as Discovery, A&E and The History Channel.
In 2019, we partnered with the legendary Dick Wolf to produce “First Responders Live” for Fox. It was one of the biggest projects we’ve ever done.
“First Responders Live” was among the first live shows to tackle coverage of all three agencies—firefighters, police officers and EMS technicians and first responders—and the challenge was steep. We had done live shows before, but never on a scale like this, with so many field crews working in so many cities, and then all of the in-studio work. We thought we had seen it all, but this was brand new for us.
EXTENDING OUR REACH
To create the right formula for the show in terms of equipment and signal flow, we mapped out all the different cameras and transmissions. (It looked like the chalkboard scene from “A Beautiful Mind.”) We did our research in selecting the right transmission gear and provider. By far, VidOvation and Aviwest stood out because of their experience and proven track record with this type of live project.
During production we filmed in as many as 10 cities in an evening, and in each city we had six to eight cameras rolling live—some handheld, others fixed-rig. Aviwest PRO380 mobile video transmitters mounted on various HD cameras allowed us to take advantage of H.265/HEVC encoding, which ensured great video quality with low data requirements and low latency.
Using bonded cellular technology, the PRO380 transmitters combined available network interfaces to create reliable video-transmission links to our control room at TV City in Los Angeles. Aviwest Stream-Hub transceiver, decoder, and distribution platforms in our control room allowed us to receive all those simultaneous live broadcast-quality video feeds in perfect frame-accurate genlock and lip-sync.
The VidOvation team had given our crews and camera operators tutorials on what to expect and on potential issues they needed to be aware of.
We also built an amazing room we call the “Red Zone,” where all the media is uploaded. When we turned it on and saw cameras fire up across the country we got crystal clear imagery, even in low light and coming from police cars speeding 100 mph. We saw very little dropout, and lip sync was spot on.
We had thought that on such a complex show, technology would be our biggest worry. But because the technology was so spectacular, the real challenge was how to creatively stitch the show together with so many options available.
With approximately 40 different camera angles, we had to make snap judgments in picking a particular city or call, and then keep our fingers crossed that it would work. We had prepared months and months for the show, and then in one evening, it went live and was done. It was exciting!
We hope to keep offering Fox viewers this live look at brave American heroes with future episodes of “First Responders Live.” We’re also looking at how we can apply this formula—with VidOvation and Aviwest solutions and expertise—to other formats in the non-scripted space.
Founded by Rasha Drachkovitch and Stephanie Noonan Drachkovitch, 44 Blue Productions is an award-winning producer of non-fiction and unscripted content whose series have aired on more than 20 domestic television networks and in more than 120 countries worldwide. They can be contacted at www.44blue.com.
For more information, visit www.vidovation.com or call 949-304-6793.