Why a prompter

It’s absolutely true that teleprompting is a wonderful production tool, most would say that it is now an essential tool. I don’t think anyone would ever consider returning to the nodding donkey days of unprompted talent. While many may think that teleprompting was developed to massage the egos of the star presenters – this is not necessarily so. Prompting took off for a number of reasons and, initially, all of them technical. In the early days of prompting, VTR’s or telecine machines had a run up period, usually 10 seconds until they were producing a stable picture. If a presenter rehearsed with an intro and then changed the timing of the text on the live transmission the cue would be missed – and in those days even the smallest glitch was a criminal offence! Therefore prompting enabled the intro to be fine tuned to that magic 10 second run up and, more importantly, the presenters said the same thing on transmission as they did in rehearsal and a smooth cut was assured. Another good reason to use a prompter was that tape, 2″ in those days, was very expensive and editing it was very laborious, cutting the tape with a razorblade between frames using iron filings to identify the edit point! Many programmes were recorded “as live”, warts and all, but for those that were recorded for later transmission it was cheaper to have a prompter than cut the tape and even if the prompter only enabled longer takes, thus fewer edits, it was worth the cost. Of course the presenters became somewhat enamoured of prompting since it took pressure off them and gradually, sadly the art of ad libbing died. I’m talking here about the jobbing presenter, not the specialist who knows their subject backwards, the sports presenter Frank Bough comes to mind, you’d never know if the prompter was running or not!

But then production noticed that with prompting a lot of time could be saved. I’ve always maintained that, if prompting is used properly a two day shoot can be turned into a one day and a one day into a half day. This was taken to an extreme when some quiz shows like 15 to 1 managed to record two or three shows a day. Some light entertainment shows were able to get away with one day rehearsal and one day record. There is no way you could achieve this rate of production without teleprompting.

Where Now?

So where are we now? As a rule of thumb anybody, other than stand up comedians, and then some of them, who is looking at the camera and speaking without referring to notes is using a teleprompter. It’s sort of self perpetuating because we, the audience now expect anybody on television to look us in the eye when they are addressing us. Witness the occasional television programme you might see abroad where prompting, a rare occurrence, is not being used. It is amazing how disconcerting it is when somebody is reading from a script on the desk. So there we have it game, set and match, prompting has it.