Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Video guru gets jump on HDTV with 'Water's Edge'

Riverboat show made here could become HDTV series

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Maybe by the next Tall Stacks, tentatively set for 2003, you will have seen “Majestic Riverboats,” the high-definition TV (HDTV) episode being previewed today at Cincinnati's PPS video production house.

        Bob Gerding hopes so.

        That would mean he had produced and sold what could become Cincinnati's first national TV series shot in the new wide-screen HDTV format.

        “That's what we want to do. Our plans are to produce our own programming for television in high definition,” says Mr. Gerding, who opened PPS in 1981.

        It would mean that most of you would have new high-definition TV sets, the new movie-quality digital format we must convert to by the end of this decade.

        “Majestic Riverboats,” a half-hour program narrated by Nick Clooney during October's Tall Stacks, is the pilot for a 26-episode series, At the Water's Edge. Mr. Gerding hopes to the sell the PPS/Clooney Productions show to PBS or a cable channel, perhaps Discovery or A&E.

        Few high-definition TV programs exist. We're at the dawn of the digital TV age, very early in the transition from the 50-year-old analog system.

        “We're trying to jump ahead of the industry a little bit,” says Mr. Gerding, 61, who worked for Channel 9 and Channel 48 in the late 1950s and '60s.

        “And if you want (a program) to have any longevity, something that can be put on a shelf for a while, it's got to be in high-definition,” he says.

Count the windows
        About 75 people who helped produce “Majestic Riverboats,” including actors who played Civil War-era roles, have been invited to two previews today at PPS in the Gwynne Building, downtown. They will be amazed by the picture clarity, being able to count each window on the Delta Queen or every leaf on a tree.

        Mr. Gerding's next step will be shopping it to networks that could fund future episodes about events along waterways. At the Water's Edge could include everything from New Orleans' Mardi Gras to Colorado's Durango & Silverton Railroad, San Antonio's Riverwalk, canoeists traveling the path of Lewis & Clark, or Riverfest and other spectacular fireworks shows.

        “There are lots of travel shows about far-away places you can't get to, or will never afford to get to,” he says. “Our idea is to show people what's in their own country, places they can afford to go to, and enjoy as a family.”

        Inspiration for the series literally came at the water's edge. Mr. Gerding was dining with his wife, Linda, at the Chart House in Newport when they began talking about doing a series showcasing the Ohio River. They enlisted the help of Nina Clooney, Nick's wife. Linda and Nina wrote the pilot episode.

        While Mr. Gerding looks for series funding, PPS' HDTV Productions crew will continue shooting and banking HDTV footage for the Cincinnati Convention & Visitor's Bureau, local TV stations, opera, ballet and other clients. (PPS has shot ballet and opera rehearsals this season in HDTV.)

        “All the stations are gearing up for high definition. They're all looking for some footage they could use,” he says.

"WKRP' connection
        Mr. Gerding has been working for himself since 1969, when he opened Gerding Productions. He filmed commercials for Shillito's, Rike's, Lazarus and Elder-Beerman.

        In the late 1970s, his was one of the first Tristate companies to use one-inch remote video tape. His experience with that format resulted in a call from MTM Studios to shoot the local exteriors for the WKRP in Cincinnati opening credits, and all Cincinnati scenes during the series run (1978-82).

        Tired of commuting to Chicago or Detroit to edit tape, he opened PPS, the city's first post-production house, in 1981.

        Mr. Gerding, long recognized as a Cincinnati video leader, wants to be the HDTV leader, too. He has tried to promote the new wide-screen format, even arranging for PPS' $8,500 HDTV screen to be loaned to Montgomery Inn each week last fall for ABC's Monday Night Football.

        “I feel a little bit like I'm in the television-selling business,” he says. “But it's a chicken-and-egg thing right now. TV stations say, "Nobody owns any HDTV sets,' and the consumer is saying, "TV stations aren't doing anything in HDTV.'

        “It's not coming as fast as we hoped, but it will come. As they broadcast more in high definition, more people will say, "I've got to have it!'”

        For 19 years, video producers have come to PPS to edit their programs. Now Mr. Gerding wants to make his own shows, too. And he will. You watch.        

John Kiesewetter is Enquirer TV/radio critic. Write him at 312 Elm St., Cincinnati, 45202.