If you're old enough, you may remember that TVs haven't always been widescreen. Yup, once upon a time, the aspect ratio was more 4:3 than 16:9, meaning the content was filmed with this space in mind. Since TVs have changed shape and size, content producers wanting to use old shows and films have had to edit the footage to fit – either by adding pillarboxing (black bands on the sides of the frame) or by zooming out on the original negatives to add in the extra frames.
As pointed out in a fascinating Twitter thread, streamers like Netflix invariably choose the latter option – resulting in the inclusion of some amusing, and unintended, extra detail on the edges of shots. Classic shows like Friends and M*A*S*H have been subjected to this treatment, and this thread is filled with screenshots showcasing the issue. Read on to check it out (and then see our list of the best video editing software).
Shows like Friends, M*A*S*H and Seinfeld were shot on film and presented on TV in 4:3 aspect ratio.For streaming, unused portions of the film negative are used to create a 16:9 widescreen image—if the reframe is sloppy, the audience sees more than was intended. "Friends" s10e01 pic.twitter.com/QxGPrcQTRrMay 20, 2023
Todd Vaziri is the original poster, who summarises the issue in the above tweet, which clearly shows a peculiar empty window frame to the right of Joey. "Shows like Friends, M*A*S*H and Seinfeld were shot on film and presented on TV in 4:3 aspect ratio," he explains. "For streaming, unused portions of the film negative are used to create a 16:9 widescreen image – if the reframe is sloppy, the audience sees more than was intended."
Vaziri also points out that it is actually more work to edit the footage this way, when pillarboxing would preserve the original shooting intention. But, Vaziri says, streamers claim the audience would be "confused" by the black banding on the sides of shots.
How "Seinfeld" s08e16 'The Pothole' looked as originally broadcast vs. today on Netflix. pic.twitter.com/An6DbzNfrIMay 20, 2023
The above tweets show how Seinfeld and M*A*S*H have been affected by this "sloppy" editing. As Vaziri points out, the top and bottom are trimmed, but the edges are widened to include parts of the set that were never meant to be in shot.
The Simpsons landed on Disney Plus a few years ago, and was put through the same ringer. But, as animation doesn't have the same 'set' to widen out, the crop has other implications for what was shown on screen. The below image (posted by another Twitter user) shows, side-by-side, how the cropping can impact the overall image – and this one totally kills the joke.
See the problem? Cropping the image has removed the top part of the frame, and has removed the punchline. I'd take some black banding over that. Luckily, Disney quickly pledged to fix the issue and you can now view the episodes with the visual jokes included.
I recommend exploring the thread to find other examples of the issue – and be sure to watch out for it when you're next watching a classic show. Would you rather put up with pillarboxing or do you savour the chance for an unintended glance behind the scenes (almost)?
Still rocking a 4:3 TV? If you'd like to upgrade, here's our list of the best TVs out there.