At KVIE, we’re no strangers to live television or debates, but producing a live debate with a studio audience for broadcast and live streaming takes a lot of behind-the-scenes effort. And that’s just what we did for California’s 7th Congressional District debate on October 18.

According to the debate’s Associate Producer and Event Manager Kellie Raines and Producer, Director Alice Yu, here are five things no one realizes about setting up for a debate.

Everything is determined by coin toss. To keep things fair between the candidates, lots of decisions are made by the age-old coin toss. Who stands at which podium, which dressing room the campaigns use, who answers the first question, which candidate holds the first press conference, and more are all determined by coin toss. For each coin toss, the campaigns alternated who called heads or tails – all to keep the debate as fair as possible.

The technology requirements are intense. Seven HD cameras were used during the broadcast of the debate: four cameras with operators, two hung from the light grid, and a jib camera that flew over the audience. A GoPro captured time-lapse of what was going on behind-the-scenes during set-up and the debate. A green/yellow/red timing system helped keep the candidates on-time. We also helped Capital Public Radio broadcast the debate live on the radio, live streamed the debate on our website and our sponsors’ websites, and made the broadcast available to the pool of news media that came to cover the debate.

The candidates must be kept apart until the last second. Each campaign had its own designated dressing room and designated bathroom. When it came time to enter the studio for the debate, each campaign was led through the back, timed with radio communication so they didn’t catch a glimpse of each other.

Contingency planning counts – even if you don’t use it. There were backups for everything, from staff to technology. Each of the six microphones in use had a backup. “Technical difficulty” screens were on stand-by in case part of the broadcast system failed. And the crew rehearsed everything to make sure the event went as smoothly as possible – there are no do-overs with live television!

The little details matter. The campaigns agreed on every detail, from snacks to podium materials to guests. Each dressing room had water, iced tea, lemonade, and “light snacks.” Each podium had two pens, two pencils, 10 pieces of white, loose leaf paper, and five bottles of water – each pre-opened. Each podium was an equal distance from the moderator’s table, and from the cameras. We used a light meter to ensure each candidate had the same amount of light on them at the podium.

It takes dozens of hours, dedicated staff, civic-minded viewers, and a little bit of cooperation between political candidates, but we’re proud to have hosted the only debate between candidates for representative of California’s 7th Congressional district.

Here’s a peek inside the studio where the debate took place. The time-lapse video shows the 3-day set-up required to make everything just right!

By the numbers: How the debate breaks down
100 in-studio audience chairs
56 minutes and 46 seconds of live television
60 KVIE staff
10 microphones
8 cameras
5 community partners
3 panelists
2 candidates
1 moderator
0 commercial interruptions

Behind the Scenes: How we hosted a live debate