in the mid-1990s, Phil Squyres remembers being approached by Harry Friedman,
the famed executive producer of Wheel of Fortune, who wanted to see if
Squyres could suggest an easier and faster way for Vanna White to turn over the
letters on the venerable syndicated game show. At the time, the set used
plastic trilons that White turned over to reveal each letter. This looked fine,
but it required producers to draw a curtain between games so new letters could
be put up for the next round.
"Harry wanted to know if there was a better way to do it," recalls Squyres, who
was supervising technical operations for Wheel and other Sony-produced
shows. Working with CBS Electronics, Squyres came up with a new computerized
system using digital displays that went on-air in February 1997. As soon as
White touched one of the screens, the letter appeared.
Squyres admits he likes to tell that story when people want to know what he
does. But that elegant technical solution also highlights the vital
behind-thescenes role the Sony Pictures Television (SPT) senior VP of technical
operations has played on the production of many iconic television programs
since the 1970s. Those programs range from such Norman Lear productions as All
in the Family and The Jeffersons to syndicated shows such as Wheel
and Jeopardy! and a host of Sony-produced network dramas and
Squyres' work to identify technology to improve the creativity of TV
productions began early. While studying math and physics at the University of
Houston, he was looking for a career that would combine both technology and
creativity. After working at the college radio station and a local TV station,
he took jobs at KHTV Little Rock and then WFFA Dallas. He started directing
local music shows and began working on large-screen projections for Showco, for
which he produced concert videos for some of the biggest rock stars of the era,
including the Who.
When Showco ran into financial problems, Squyres used his severance pay to move
to Hollywood, where he worked from 1977-1980 as technical supervisor at
Metromedia Productions on a number of Norman Lear shows. Then, after a short
return to directing, he moved into increasingly high-profile technical jobs at
several Hollywood studios, landing in 1985 at a company that would eventually
Over time, that work has played a notable part in improving the quality of TV
programming. Squyres played a key role in the move to 24p HD formats, which
gave network shows a much more cinematic look, and the ongoing transition from
film to digital and from tape to file-based workflows, which has streamlined
the production process. He also supervised the conversion of Sony's Jeopardy!
and Wheel of Fortune to hi-def; they became the first daily
syndicated shows in HD.
Today, Squyres continues to break new ground with the introduction of 4K technologies
that provide much higher resolution than the industry hidef standard.
Currently, Sony is producing two series and several pilots in 4K.
That work will also be evident in this fall's new programming. Before Sony
starts production on its new shows, Squyres and his team will "sit down with
the DP [director of photography] and producer and run through all the options
for cameras and workflows and how they can shoot on a budget and schedule. Part
of my responsibility is to make sure nothing goes in the wrong direction."