Vanity, thy name is hi-def TV.
The holiday shopping season was expected to 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 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-lighted 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.
When "Good Morning America" debuted in high-definition last year, host Diane Sawyer, 61, noted that viewers will now know when she's stayed up too late. "They will see it right there," Sawyer said, indicating the puffiness under her eyes.
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, airbrushing is very helpful for high definition when you want an even coverage," says Murray. "However, it's not ideal for every situation. 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."
Botox injections and face-lifts 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.
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."
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."