Interview: CBS Digital gives us a behind-the-scenes look at how TV shows are made

If 2016 has provided a bumper crop of compelling TV content — in the form of everything from Westworld to all those Amazon and Netflix originals to earnest, experimental series like FX’s Atlanta — it’s also meant that studio executives like George Bloom and Craig Weiss find themselves busier than ever these days. Indeed, the pair of executives at CBS Digital have their work cut out for them.

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At a Television Critics Association press event a few months ago, FX CEO John Landgraf said he thinks so much content for the small screen is getting churned out that we’ll probably see ‘peak TV’ next year, or certainly by 2018. Having so many shows to binge on, of course, is great for TV junkies. But first, all that content has to actually get written, shot, edited and distributed.

And for a look at some of the increasing demands on that front, BGR caught up some of the folks at CBS Digital, a creative studio and production entity within the CBS Television City studio complex in LA.

Weiss is an executive director and Bloom an executive producer with CBS Digital, and their team of a few dozen employees is ramping up its efforts on a couple of important fronts. The unit at the moment is handling a string of projects for outside entities, everything from Amazon and Netflix to competing studios like ABC and FOX, at the same time as it’s building out its own next-generation visual effects capabilities.

Weiss and Bloom say they’re all-in on virtual reality, for example, and wants to do more there, at the same time as the unit absorbs projects for shows like Amazon’s Transparent and Netflix’s Daredevil.

“At the end of the day, the most important commodity for a filmmaker is time,” said Bloom, whose CBS Digital visual effects team creates effects for TV series as well as movies, in addition to developing custom VR content for CBS Digital’s VR Lab that he oversees. “They have very little time, because these TV shows are kind of blurring the line between TV and movies. And on these TV series, the quality is just as good as theatrical motion pictures, but we’re having to work at a much faster pace.”

It’s why he says the team at CBS Digital, for example, is sometimes delivering 150 to 175 shots a week for a TV show that has to be shot in eight or nine days. The increased demands of studio partners are also why the CBS team created the system they call Parallax, which helps them deliver virtual sets that can replicate any set or location and turn it into a digital, 360-degree environment.

Speaking of visual effects work the unit does, that’s distinguished, for the uninitiated, from “special effects.” A team helps shoot a car explosion for a TV series? That’s a special effect. Visual effects, on the other hand, refer to the kind of computer-focused work CBS Digital is involved with.

Visual effects is the core of CBS Digital’s business. Meanwhile, some of the shows CBS Digital works with are also coming to them and asking for custom VR experiences, like the recent Netflix hit series Stranger Things.

Here’s what CBS Digital helped come up with there: