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How 'Oscars' Screens The Salty Moments

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

There's just one day left until the curtain rises on the 88th Academy Awards. It's perhaps the most anticipated live Hollywood telecast of the year - and the most nerve-racking, especially for the sound guys. You've got unwieldy microphones, speeches that run on too long and, with increasing frequency, those cuss-bombs that will get you into trouble with the FCC.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "83rd ACADEMY AWARDS")

MELISSA LEO: When I watched Kate two years ago, it looked so (beep) easy - oops.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steve Venezia has been working the show since 2002. He's senior director for content services at Dolby, and he joins us now. Welcome.

STEVE VENEZIA: Well, thank you very much for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As we've seen, anything can happen when these celebrities take the stage.

(LAUGHTER)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And certainly, something that has been making the news recently - in recent award shows - is some of the salty language that has been used. How is that cut out of a live telecast? How does that work?

VENEZIA: Every network has a standards and practices group. And they'll do a - typically a 7-second delay and monitor the show. In the case of the Oscars and in many of these shows, those people actually on-site and so they're sitting in their own little trailer listening to the live feed right off the stage and at the same time listening to the 7-second delay feed. And it's interesting because they actually do that in one pair of headphones. So in the left ear, they're hearing live. In the right ear, they're hearing a 7-second delay of the same show. And they watch the entire show that way so that they can hear what they need to cut out and then they can hear that they actually got it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So as someone who has been though this 14 times, you must have some memorable moments.

VENEZIA: You know, some of the performances - you know, there are always certain ones that stand out, and you can tell because of the way it just lifts the room up. You know, one of my favorites was last year, John Legend and Common doing "Glory" from Selma.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "87th ACADEMY AWARDS")

JOHN LEGEND AND COMMON: (Singing) Oh, glory. Glory, glory - oh, glory.

(Rapping) Hands to the heavens, no man, no weapon formed against, yes, glory is destined. Every day...

VENEZIA: And just the feeling in the room - it was so emotional and so powerful. And that's, in some ways, not just fun from being there and experiencing it, but those are the kind of things that we strive for in sound is to bring that emotion through the audio to the audience so that they're really feeling the performance. That's when we really feel like, you know, we are really doing our job.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: OK, you can tell me - Oscar disasters that we might not have noticed. What was, like, the worst thing that happened?

VENEZIA: (Laughter) That's what every - that's the question everybody wants to ask. You know, there - we've never really had any really bad disasters. I mean, you have situations where people walk out and their microphone doesn't work. Years ago, we were using the main feed over satellite back to New York and, just the beginning of the show, a helicopter just doing a press cam around the red carpet...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

VENEZIA: ...Decided to just park itself between the satellite truck and the satellite in the sky. And suddenly, you have no signals.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm going to ask you a question about the Grammys. What did you think when the mic fell onto the piano strings in Adele's performance?

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "58th GRAMMY AWARDS")

ADELE: (Singing) I won't say a word.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It seemed to throw her off. You know, what was going through your mind?

VENEZIA: Well, you know, that's one of those things that happens in live TV. That's the excitement of live television and also the drama of it. You know, I think the key thing for people who work these kind of shows is - these are some of the coolest people under fire. They don't get tense, and they focus. It's almost as if the stress or the issues that may occur actually causes them to focus even more, and they thrive on that. And you need to have that kind of personality to survive in the live television business.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Steve Venezia is senior director for content services at Dolby. He's been busy getting ready for tomorrow night's Oscars telecast. Thank you so much for joining us.

VENEZIA: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.