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CBS announces 'Survivor' will be finally film in high definition TV


By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 04/14/2008 

After sixteen seasons, Survivor viewers will finally be able to watch the long-running CBS reality series in HDTV.

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CBS and Sony have announced Survivor's seventeenth season -- which is scheduled to shoot this summer and premiere in the fall -- will be the first to film in widescreen high-definition format. 

"Shooting in high definition gives our production team tools for storytelling beyond what was previously possible and will give our loyal audience an enhanced viewing experience," said CBS executive Ghen Maynard.  "Survivor's locations and natural elements have always served as another character in the show and an important part of the competition. With HD, viewers will feel as if they are on location instead of in their living room."

Survivor's HDTV upgrade has been a long time coming for viewers -- who have hoped it would follow in the footsteps of other reality shows like Dancing with the Stars and American Idol, which both aired their first few initial seasons in standard definition but (like nearly all broadcast network scripted programs) already migrated to high definition years ago. 

Survivor executive producer Mark Burnett had previously repeatedly -- dating back at least to May 2002, when Reality TV World first asked Burnett about the show's HDTV upgrade plans -- cited the high costs of upgrading and the poor durability of HD cameras as the reasoning behind the show's continued standard definition filming.

However during the last couple of years, numerous other smaller-budget cable reality programs (including Deadliest Catch, the Discovery Network program that films fishermen fishing for crab on the cold and unforgiving Bering Sea) have managed to successfully switch to HDTV filming -- establishing that despite Burnett's previous concerns, HD cameras should now be more than durable enough to survive Survivor's comparatively mild filming conditions.

"If CBS wants me to do it, I'll say yes," Burnett told reporters last summer, TV Week reported at the time. 

Survivor host Jeff Probst had reiterated Burnett's comments during a January conference call with reporters.

"They're still debating about HD and the cost," said Probst.  "I think everybody wants us to do it, it's just a matter of CBS saying we're going to do it and here's the extra money.  I'm not sure."

CBS is partnering with Sony -- who had previously supplied the show's standard-definition cameras -- for the HDTV upgrade.

"Sony's XDCAM HD system will start a new era for Survivor," said Burnett. "The camcorder brings the exotic locales to life brilliantly, creating an immediacy that draws viewers right into the frame. This is something we'd been looking to do for some time, and now it has become a reality."

Sony marketing manager Wayne Zuchowski said the company's XDCAM HD system is ideal for Survivor's needs.

"Often, reality crews are capturing hours of footage, with action often occurring on the fly so a camcorder that can be ready at a moment's notice is key for them," said Zuchowski.  "Survivor's decision to shoot with XDCAM HD technology will further push the production boundaries for reality TV, creating a new sensation much as the series did at its introduction."

CBS and Sony have not revealed the upgrade's cost or whether Sony will subsidize the expense, Daily Variety reported.

Despite Survivor's upgrade, a CBS representative told Variety "there's no word yet on if, or when" The Amazing Race would receive the same treatment.

In addition to American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, several other broadcast network reality shows have filmed in HDTV in recent years, including Fox's So You Think You Can Dance; this year's NBC revival of American Gladiators; and The One: Making a Superstar, a short-lived Idol-like reality competition that aired on ABC in 2006.  

Three other broadcast network reality programs also filmed in HD in 2004 -- The Benefactor, an ABC reality competition starring billionaire and HDNet cable network founder Mark Cuban; The Casino, a casino-shot reality series which Burnett ironically produced for Fox; and The Rebel Billionaire, a globe-trotting The Apprentice-like reality competition in which billionaire Richard Branson searched for a new protege.

(Photo credit CBS)


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