Why is NBC dimming 30 Rock?

I cannot be the only person who has noticed this: For some reason, 30 Rock’s scenes are being aired at approximately half the brightness of other programming, or even the shows own title sequences. The issue can be seen clearly in every episode of Season 5 on Hulu.com as well as NBC.com, but is not present on Season 4 or any other show on Hulu.

Here is a screenshot from last week’s episode of 30 Rock – ‘Plan B’:

Compare that to a screenshot from last week’s episode of The Office – ‘Garage Sale’:

30 Rock looks very dark and lacks contrast.

Now here are the histograms for each image:

30 Rock – ‘Plan B’

The Office – ‘Garage Sale’

If you’re not familiar, a luminance histogram measures tone in an image from pure black (on the left) to pure white (on the right). The mountains and valleys you see in the meter represent the concentration of that tone. As you can see, the histogram from The Office has bits of data from end to end, but the one from 30 Rock is solely concentrated from the black point to the middle, meaning there is no brightness data in the second half of the spectrum.

Now here is what the picture looks like when we fix the histogram.

Better, right?

The thing is, it appears to be intentional because, as I mentioned before, the issue is not present in the shows title sequences (and select cut-away sequences).

So, why is NBC doing this? It’s already well established that the show does its best to shoot on Tina’s right side to not showcase her facial scar (which is oddly mirrored in the show’s title sequence) and many TV shows used to use soft focus lenses to hide the blemishes of its actors or actresses.

Is this dimming of the footage an attempt to hide the looks of aging stars Fey and Baldwin? Is it just a very weird, but completely consistent, mistake? Or is there some other less obvious reason I’m missing?

8 Replies to “Why is NBC dimming 30 Rock?”

  1. Perhaps this is part of NBC’s Green Initiative? Hopefully the DVDs of current season will be “corrected”.

  2. I noticed it as well. It’s funny i did a quick web search for the answer and found none! I love the show but watching it on my 65in hdtv is not a great user experience, actually it looks like crap! I wish NBC would stop it. That’s my take.

    Nice job on the histograms btw

  3. Never really followed the show, and was just watching a re-run from 2010 that CLEARLY looked dark on my TV. It was so noticeable that I had to look up the issue online. Shame on NBC for even releasing a product like this with no explanation, and leaving some of us to wonder if there is something wrong with our TV’s/eyes

  4. 30 Rock shoots on 35mm film, while The Office shoots on HD video. Film has more dynamic range, and they tend to let it play pretty naturally on 30 Rock. They don’t often push the brightness and saturation to the max, the way your Levels example does. If a scene doesn’t have super bright highlights, they’ll leave it in the midtones.

    It’s similar to the difference between older music that has more dynamic range (the quiet parts are quiet and the loud parts are loud) versus new music which has been pushed to 100% for the whole track.

    If you look at other shows that shoot film (such as Boardwalk Empire, Walking Dead, etc), they tend to use that dynamic range. The result is that they’ll look “dark” when viewed side-by-side with video. So it’s a stylistic thing that has nothing to do with scars.

  5. What’s interesting is, when they are showing the 30 Rock re-runs on comedy central in HD, somebody smart over there fixed the problem and it looks so much better! I can’t believe how bad it looks on NBC , so dim and drab, I’m glad someone noticed!

  6. @Ben reasonable explanation but it wasn’t this way until last season.

    @Mike what season is it, older episodes weren’t this way.

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