Off The Cuff

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Off The Cuff
Genre: Light Entertainment
First Broadcast: May 2003 (pilot), October 2003 (on-air)
Last Broadcast: February 2004
Producer(s): Whoever wanted to!
The broom cupboard set

In March 2003 YSTV received a lot of equipment from a company called AccentureUnverified or incomplete information, including a DV camera, a security camera now known as DeathStar, pen cameras, a large equipment desk and a new vision mixer. Whilst this meant the usual DaVE vision mixer wouldn't have to be trundled out to OBs, it left the new Panasonic Max (as it was christened) lying dormant most of the time.

With new content desperately needed for the station Jonathan Bufton, Dave Baker and Ed Jellard - encouraged by the outgoing active membership - installed it in a corner of the studio, with some spare setboards, monitors, a small desk, a bubble tube and the new OB sound desk. The self-operated setup was inspired by the "broom cupboard" Children's BBC set of the late 80s and early 90s (which was actually the BBC1 continuity announcer's booth) and it was the essence of this that was the intial idea for the show. The idea was people would be able to host their own shows without needing a full crew to get it on air, and mix chat with music and whatever people wanted. The "skeleton crew" idea was also in order to cope with the anticpated collapse in active membership at the start of 2003/4.

The four inputs on the vision mixer were assigned to the camera, the two VCRs and a "guest" source - which included pen cameras, DeathStar, a computer next door in the control room (for internet reviews) and live TV channels. The "broom cupboard" also finally provided a handy area for the NaffoCue operator to sit in during programmes such as YSTV Week, with the technology for that built into bottom of the small set. Long term, should the concept take off, the idea was to use the set also as a general "presentation" area - for example doing live or pre-recorded in-vision links into programmes - to give budding presenters more chances to get on air.

After an off-air pilot in May 2003 the set was shifted from the fire escape corner to just in front of the entrance to the studio at the start of the 2003/4 academic year to allow bigger productions to make use of the full back wall of the studio (eventually settling on the YSTV Week set in one corner and other productions in the fire escape corner). A few special Freshers' Week shows followed, including one on the very first night of term, aiming at getting people in bars watching our output when conversation dried up with their new housemates. Word was then put about to freshers that presenters were wanted for the new slot every afternoon between 1600 and 1800, replacing the TMF-simulcast Music Videos slot that usually went out at that time, as a warm up to the evening's programmes. Jonathan in particular was keen to get as much YSTV-produced output on air as possible, in order to fight against the campus cliche that "all YSTV ever shows is The Simpsons". Off The Cuff was to be a key part of this push as it would go out at a time when the audience in front of campus TVs was beginning to grow as lectures finished.

Off The Cuff with Jonathan and Ed and an example of trying to decorate the back walls, which presenters were encouraged to do
The broom cupboard as seen from behind the news desk

After the set was used successfully for Children In Need 2003 to drum up interest (and partly because there wasn't enough crew to do a full show) the afternoon slot finally launched in January 2004, losing the bubble tube to give the presenters a bit more space and to avoid having an enormous tube of water balanced above a lot of equipment. Sadly there were many problems, including the set being quite difficult to learn how to control, the music videos (taped from TMF) having to be cued from ageing VHS machines, the components of the set frequently being removed for OBs or testing and above all lack of interest or ability to hold together a two hour TV show as would be easy on the radio. The pressures of the term meant the show effectively ended once pre-production for Elections 2004 really kicked in, and after a period of inactivity the set was dismantled in May 2004 during the YSTV Clean-Up when it was decided by the new officers that it was unlikely to be used in the future. The irony was that with a growing active membership and advancements in technology making hard-drive playout of the videos possible the show would have been easier to run after this point - but naturally no-one was willing to put in the effort a second time after it hadn't really worked initially.

A gallery of Off The Cuff images can be seen here.

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