Ever since shows like “Lois and Clark” started filming in widescreen format, there’s been a problem. They’ve needed to pander to people with standard 4:3 ratio television sets. So while the show exists in widescreen with extra material to the left and right, everything was still composed for the center. Those wings on the screen were dead zones.
Today, 15 years later, the same is true. Watching a network drama in widescreen format on my HDTV, I see that everything is still happening in the middle of the screen. You might not notice it right away, but once you do it’ll drive you mad. Then you’ll notice the little network bug is right in the corner of the 4:3 layout, while the image still extends out to the right. This is also true in sporting events — all the graphics stretch completely across the screen, but the information is only in the center of the screen. It’s even true on reality shows. Next time Tom Bergeron is shuffling dancers off back stage on “Dancing With the Stars,” note how far to the right he is on the screen. Those people sitting behind him off on the far left are never seen on a regular 4:3 TV set.
With digital television signals becoming the norm in a couple of months, will this madness soon end? Will we soon see people talking on screen from the far left or right edge? Will directors be allowed to compose their television shots in the same way they’d compose their theatrical shots? I hope so.