August 17, 2016

Restoring the classics

Perhaps this is just my inner nerd showing, but I find this tremendously interesting and hopefully you will as well. There's a YouTube channel called NBNTelevision which features restored versions of classic live broadcasts originally captured by kinescope.

We all know that kinescopes, which we love because they give us recordings of classic programs that would otherwise be lost, still leave something to be desired when it comes to reproducing the "night of broadcast" look and sound.  The process, which quite literally consists of a movie camera recording the picture right off the tube, turns a live telecast into a film, taking away the immediacy of what it would have felt like when seeing the original broadcast as it happened.

The technique used by NBN, called "motion interpolation," is intended to restore the videotape look and sound, allowing us to imagine what it would have been like seeing that live broadcast. It also cleans up and sharpens both the audio and video quality, allowing us to see and hear details that may well have been hidden since the original production. So far, NBN has uploaded four restorations, and while the Studio One broadcasts of "Wuthering Heights" and "Sentence of Death" are very good, you'll get the biggest impact from the other two broadcasts.

The first is Playhouse 90's landmark "Requiem for a Heavyweight," with a brilliant script by Rod Serling and terrific performances from Jack Palance, Keenan Wynn, and his father Ed. Watch this video from the beginning to get an idea of what a difference this restoration makes.

The second is 1957's Cinderella, by Rodgers and Hammerstein, starting the young and luminous Julie Andrews in the title role. The original broadcast of Cinderella was, to that point, the most-watched program in the history of television - over 100 million saw that live telecast.

Watching these programs was a real eye-opener for me - although we're certainly able to ascertain the quality of these broadcasts based on the kinescopes, we're now able to actually replicate the feel of seeing them as they happened - to see them the way they were meant to be seen, to appreciate them the way the original audiences did, to feel the drama of actors performing live for a national television audience. It's a powerful, as well as delightful, way for classic television to come alive - and I dare you to convince yourself as you watch them that they aren't live.


  1. Very interesting... thanks for sharing... I'm going to be checking NBNTelevision out. And also it's rather coincidental that the channel is called NBN Television. In Australia we have a regional broadcaster that goes by exactly that name.

  2. Re Playhouse 90: the only problem with this is that while the video restoration does look very good, the audio sounds too good for what most of the country would have heard. Other than the origin point (L.A.), all the affiliates in the Eastern, Central and Mountain time zones heard audio through a 5 kHz Telco line. Even in NYC, since it didn't originate there, but rather at TV City in L.A.

    And I don't think L.A. saw this live--it was probably via a kinnie for the west coast feed at 9:30 PT. Oh, and there's more--during most of October in 1956, L.A. was four hours behind NYC, not three. L.A. went back to standard time the end of September, while '56 was the second year that NYC stayed on DST until the end of October. So the show would have been done LIVE! at TV City at 5:30 PT (not 6:30), to hit NYC at 9:30 ET. (I doubt if CBS wanted it to air on the coast at 5:30 PM.)

  3. NOW, I have an idea of what the original telecast of "Requiem for a Heavyweight" was like. And I LOVE it!

  4. What a ridiculous nerd you are, Mitchell! Nearly as nerd as me... I've spent the last year caning my Macbook Pro's poor, tired i7 processor to interpolate frames for lots of archive TV material from the UK. And even more time trying to set up various motion estimation software to get the best results... or any results at all. HowevEr, I'm duly impressed with the efforts of NBN Television and have really enjoyed peering back into the mid-1950's. I recently processed the very first color VT featuring your President Eisenhower at NBC TV in 1958 to 720p60. That afternoon in May '58 looks like it was recorded yesterday! The wonder of videotape at keeping the past aLIVE...


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