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Conventional Sound Design in Contemporary TV

by Jeremy Butler

In this Grey’s Anatomy scene, Meredith’s voiceover elliptically refers to the action. That is, in the scene prior to the analyzed one, in which a couple reunites, we hear her say, “We have to damage the healthy flesh, in order to expose the unhealthy,” but she has not completed her thought. She pauses as that scene dissolves to a Seattle skyline shot, which dissolves to the first shot of the analyzed scene, where she continues to muse (“It feels cruel...”) and trails off so the scene’s dialogue can begin. Regular viewers are familiar with Meredith’s voice-overs linking disparate scenes together and enticing the viewer to stay tuned to find out how she’ll complete her thoughts. Speech plays on our curiosity to pull us into the television flow.

But speech is not the only sound device that pulls the viewer into the flow. Music is another common hook. Within programs it is especially common that the music does not end at the same time as the scene. Rather, the music continues──if only for just a few seconds. Grey’s Anatomy frequently employs this technique. Trent Dabbs’s “Your Side Now” continues from the previous scene to the analyzed one and then “Better” slowly starts in the analyzed scene and then peaks in the following scenes.

Dialogue scenes, especially in the single-camera mode of production, are edited so that the cuts do not coincide with vocal pauses or the ends of sentences. (This is less true in live-on-tape productions which are switched much more approximately.) Instead, the dialogue usually continues across a cut, helping to ease the transition from one shot to the next. In this Grey’s Anatomy scene analyzed, most cuts come in the midst of a phrase──creating, in a sense, a verbal match cut as the words continue across the cut. At its most basic, shot-reverse shot editing does tend to show the person speaking while he or she speaks, but editors don’t cut at the end of each line. They allow lines to bleed over the cuts in the image. At the very end of shot 9 of Lexie, Mark begins to say, “You broke up with me.” The cut to the following shot happens during “You broke...” The mid-phrase edit serves as the glue holding the cut together.

Grey's Anatomy: A Conventional Scene

Editing and sound conventions are highlighted in a scene in which two characters argue.

from Grey's Anatomy (2010)
Creator: Shonda Rhimes
Distributor: ABC
Posted by Jeremy Butler