THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
Globe Editorial

Altered images of fireworks don’t belong on live TV

Whitey Bulger did not attend the July 4 celebration, nor was he featured on the broadcast. But this photo illustration shows the dangers of blurring the line between entertainment and reality. Whitey Bulger did not attend the July 4 celebration, nor was he featured on the broadcast. But this photo illustration shows the dangers of blurring the line between entertainment and reality. (Bill Converse/Istockphoto/Photo Illustration/Globe Staff)
July 9, 2011

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BOSTON’S ICONIC sites - from the Revolutionary War to the pennant race in the American League East - are compelling enough without digital enhancements. So the decision by the Boston 4 Celebrations Foundation, which underwrites the July 4 concert and fireworks on the Esplanade, to project the display in closer-than-normal proximity to Quincy Market, Fenway Park, and other local monuments was unnecessary and inappropriate. Out-of-town viewers would be justified in feeling misled, while locals are rightly confused.

David Mugar, the local businessman and philanthropist behind the foundation, has set a standard for civic engagement by continuing to support the beloved public event, arguably the most memorable gathering of the year. But he is wrong to try to justify the altering of images on the grounds that the TV presentation of the Boston Pops concert and fireworks is entertainment, not reality.

Mugar cited Boston producer David E. Kelley’s decision to shoot exteriors for his show “Boston Legal’’ in the city while keeping the actors on a Hollywood set. But Kelley is following an established dramatic convention. Movie and TV dramas, long filmed in front of cardboard backdrops and on hastily assembled sound stages, aren’t remotely comparable to a live event like the Esplanade show.

No doubt there may be some “live’’ television shows with enhanced images or that use technology to remove unsightly distractions. But those shows do so at a great risk to credibility of the medium itself. TV producers have the power to graft together images from just about anywhere, but viewers turning on a live show have the right to expect it is unaltered. Otherwise, why not just plug in last year’s concert and fireworks on the DVD player?

Mugar should acknowledge that the altering of Boston images was a failed experiment that understandably irked some viewers. Those viewers, meanwhile, should forgive the error in recognition of his long history of generous sponsorship of a truly unique and special event.