10 Things I Learned About Cable Show Editing

  • Harry Hayes

Categories: Creative Video Services Video Editing Video Production Video Production Agency Video Production Expert Video Production Services Visual Storytelling

The biggest challenge is creating my first cable pilot was cable show editing.

My Biggest Challenge Creating a Cable Pilot Wasn’t Planning Or Shooting. It Was Cable Show Editing.

Cable show editing isn’t that hard, if you know what you’re doing.

But it you’re like me, and a great opportunity falls into your lap, and you decide to do it knowing full well that you have ZERO experience tackling a project of this scope…

Well, let’s just say if only I had known then what I know now.

Cable Show Editing

Let’s put this into context. You may recall, a few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post called “10 Things I Learned About Cable Show Production.” It covered important lessons I learned while producing and shooting a cable show pilot.

At the time I wrote that post, I didn’t realize the fun was just beginning.

What I realize now is the editing process is when all the real decisions are made—the look of the show, the music, the graphics and more. And it’s when all the tiny mistakes you made while shooting become GLARINGLY obvious.

So that said, here are my Top 10 Tips for Editing a Cable Show:

Every cable show has its own graphics, personality and style.

1. Start With a Segment Outline

Part of the planning phase of show development includes mapping out the interviews and dialogue sequences and determining a logical order.

That’s how you script out the transitions you need.

A segment outline is similar, and just as necessary. You decide what’s included in each segment.

Every show is basically a collection of segments, separated by commercial breaks. Each cable network has guidelines for their shows, that spell out how many segments and the exact length for each.

A one-hour show, for example, may have seven segments total, between 4 and 8 minutes in length.

2. Organize Footage by Segment

Once you have a segment outline, the next step is to start organizing the footage.

I do that by creating folders within the editing program, one for each segment. Then I go through the footage, shot by shot, and drag each file to the appropriate folder.

I also name files so similar shots will group together—for example, “Cardin Interview Close” and “Cardin Interview Wide.”

Once complete, I have all the interviews, transitions, sound files, and B Roll shots, divided up by segment.

If you aren’t sure where some shots should go, create an extra folder called “Misc B Roll.” That’s where you can put  the more versatile footage—landscapes, time lapse shots, etc.

Hopefully, each folder will have similar amounts of footage. If one folder has way more than the others, you may need to rethink your segment outline. Maybe the big folder can be divided into two, or some of the shots can move.

Thinking about it now will save editing time later.

Every cable show has its own graphics and visual style.

3. Design a Logo and Graphics

The next step (or the first step, if you want to get a head start) is to develop a graphic look for the show. That includes a logo, title graphics, a color scheme, and other design elements.

The graphics required depend on the concept of the show. For example, Fixer Upper uses an animated overlay to depict renovations. Chopped uses graphics to list the contents of each food basket.

The logo should work as a full-screen element (like in a title sequence) as well as reduced down in size to a smaller version (a “bug” in the bottom corner of the screen). If the type isn’t readable at the smaller size, redesign the logo.

4. Grab Attention Up Front

The beginning of any show needs to grab the viewers’ attention, and make them want to watch more before they reach for the remote.

A common technique for doing this is an opening sequence. That’s a short, fast-paced opening that gives a taste of things to come—the best B-Roll shots, the funniest one liners, the most dramatic reactions.

On Fixer Upper, they use the big reveal—excited homeowners reacting to their new home. That’s the emotional hook for the entire show, and they use it over and over, at the end of each segment, and the end of the show.

The title sequence of a show is created for the pilot and reused for each episode.

5. Create a Title Sequence

On most cable shows, the attention-grabbing opening leads directly into a title sequence—a short, 15 to 30 second sequence that explains the show’s core concept.

On Chopped, the title sequence is where host Ted Allen says “When modern chefs compete, who will win the ten thousand dollar prize, and who will be chopped?” The premise of the show is encapsulated into that single short statement.

6. Choose a Music Direction

Music is an important tool. It sets the pacing of the edit, and defines the show’s overall mood.

Is the show happy and upbeat? Or calm and relaxing? When you watch the show’s footage, do you hear a heavy metal guitar or a simple acoustic riff?

The right music can heighten a show’s drama, accentuate its comedy, or pump up the excitement.

Remember, the goal here isn’t finding a single music track that works—it’s defining an entire genre. You’ll need dozens of different tracks to introduce segments, transition to new  subjects, and generally keep things moving.

Cable show editing requires a lot of organization and attention to detail.

7. Focus on Each Segment 

Editing an hour-long show can be quite a challenge. Working your way through all the different shots, locations, interviews and camera angles, it’s easy to lose focus and start to feel overwhelmed.

My best advice: don’t think about filling sixty minutes of content. Focus on the first seven.

In my experience, the fastest way to edit interviews and dialog sequences is to sync all the footage.

That means lining up the different camera angles and sound files so you’ve got all the elements from each take, in sync.

If you start pulling selects—the best bits and pieces of each take—you’ll have to sync sound and other angles, which will take a lot more time.

In Adobe Premiere Pro, I stack the different files using separate video and audio layers. Once they’re synced up, you can choose the right camera angle later.

Audio is one of the most important aspects of cable show editing.

8. Hire a Pro for the Sound Mix

I’ve been producing radio and editing sound for years, but the first time I edited a cable show, I made lots of audio mistakes.

The difference is the quality of the audio source. Editing files recorded in a studio is relatively simple, but on location, you’re going to run into background noise, changes in room ambience, and more.

In many ways, the sound mix is dependent on the quality of the audio captured during production. If you’ve got trucks and airplanes in the background on every take, there’s not much you can do. But professional audio people can occasionally perform miracles.

9. End Segments With a Teaser

Cable networks like viewers to keep watching past the commercial break, so a lot of shows use graphics to tease the next segment. Usually they cut to an upcoming location or dialog exchange, and graphics fill in the rest.

“Not So Tiny Homes. Coming Up Next!”

I don’t know if this helps retain viewers, but a lot of shows do it.

10. Get the Color Right

For me, the most time-intensive part of editing a cable show is color correcting and color matching footage. No matter what type show you’re working on, you’re going to be cutting from wide shots to close-ups, different camera angles, and different lighting.

Shooting outdoors in natural light solves a lot of problems (you would think) but what happens when the sun goes behind a cloud?

A good editor can cut around the badly exposed footage and adjust the brightness, contrast, white balance, sharpness and color on individual shots. If you have the budget, I recommend seeking professional help.


About the Author: 

Harry Hayes is the owner and executive producer at Content Puppy Productions, a corporate video production agency based in Charlotte. Before starting Content Puppy, he spent 20+ years as an advertising writer and creative director.

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