Weekend Viewing: The Art of TV Cinematography As Exemplified by GROWING PAINS

George Spiro Dibie was, until his retirement a few years ago, one of the best and most respected video cinematographers in television. He also did some filmed shows, like the cult classic Buffalo Bill, but his main specialty was making videotaped shows look good; his most famous credit was as cinematographer of Barney Miller, and in the ’80s he shot literally every multi-camera comedy pilot produced by Warner Brothers television. When videotaped sitcoms became popular in the ’70s, he was called upon to train other cinematographers in the art of shooting on video while still giving the lighting and camerawork a film-like feel; some veteran Hollywood film cinematographers including James Wong Howe turned up at the workshop. He’s also credited with a number of innovations in the art of video shooting, including new rear-projection and lighting techniques. In an interview, he talked about what he felt was the best work he had ever done in all the hundreds of TV episodes he shot:

One of my most memorable sitcoms was the Halloween episode of Growing Pains. It was a one-hour episode, and we had four days to shoot it. We had to create moods and looks that touched on all of the emotions in that one show. The camerawork was an important part of the story-telling. We had an important interior scene mainly motivated by a fireplace with some night light coming through a window. There was a black and white sequence and one where colors were very important. We had interior and exterior scenes, and one where a Steadicam was important. If someone said to me, “Dibie, give me an hour that represents your best work,” I’d probably pick that show.

I found that quote interesting enough that when I finally found that Growing Pains two-parter online, I couldn’t resist posting it here. The selection isn’t that surprising. Growing Pains had its flaws in writing (the horrific, unfunny insults directed at sister Carol, who may be one of the inspirations for the treatment of Meg on Family Guy) and casting, but it was perhaps the best-looking videotaped show of its era. The quality of lighting, camera movement and effects were actually quite a bit higher than filmed shows of the time, which tended to have rather sedentary cameras and flat lighting. So Dibie wasn’t wrong to pick this as his best work.

Since I stopped watching the show sometime midway through its run, I didn’t realize they added a loudmouth little girl to the show (a female Bonsall, one might say) to the show. I did know they later added Leo DiCaprio, but everyone knows that, even if nobody watched the episodes.

Also, I wondered if the structure of this episode helped inspire the Simpsons “Treehouse of Horror” episodes?

Part 1:

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Part 2:

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