Friday, January 6th, 2006
John Christopher Burns always said he ‘never planned to get into television,’ but after attending Goddard College in Vermont and the Ohio University School of Journalism, he found himself working where there was work to be found—in master control at Ted Turner’s Atlanta-based cable superstation, then called WTCG.
It was the right place to start, at the right time. Turner’s station, renamed SuperStationWTBS, quickly became the most-watched basic cable service in the country, and, with two other Ohio University colleagues, Burns was able to create and design most of the components of the TBS on-air look in hands-on, middle-of-the-night production sessions. By blending a technical background in television with strong graphic design skills, Burns provided TBS with a one-of-a-kind graphic identity—created entirely on videotape in a time when film animation was still predominant. Eventually, Burns was named Manager of Creative Services for TBS, Inc., responsible for developing and coordinating the on-air looks of WTBS, CNN and CNN Headline News (initially called CNN2.)
After five years at Turner Broadcasting System, Burns left to form Television by Design, a company dedicated to creating complete graphic packages for broadcast stations and cable networks. In his five years there as Creative Director, he supervised projects for more than fifty stations nationwide, and soon established a distinctive ‘TVbD style’—clean, multilayered paintbox-created graphics—a crisp, first-generation video look, with bold colors and typography. This style set a standard that has since been widely imitated. Burns has always been something of a pioneer in creating full broadcast-quality graphics and animation on Macintosh computer systems. In 1989, he forsaw the use of the Mac as “the natural outgrowth of the merging of print and video media–and a tool that will find its way into more and more production and broadcast environments.”
In 1988, Burns sold his interest in Television by Design and began a more selective schedule of freelance projects and consulting jobs. Early among these was a homecoming of sorts—a complete redesign of CNN Headline News that was completed in April of 1989.
Throughout the nineties, he implemented two redesigns of the promotional graphics for ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ including an extensive set of specialized promo tags for holidays and special program topics. He created unique, city-specific identities for Pulitzer stations KOAT in Albuquerque, WGAL in Lancaster/Harrisburg, WDSU in New Orleans, WYFF in Greenville/Spartanburg; and distinctive looks for stations KGW in Portland, WSAV in Savannah, and KTVB in Boise. He crafted news opens for KPRC in Houston, did extensive design and consulting for WXIA in Atlanta, created (pro bono) a multiple award-winning redesign for Atlanta’s public television station WPBA, cranked out a complete graphics package for ESPN’s ‘MotoWorld’, and finished the decade with on-air animation and typography for WFTV in Orlando.
And in the past few years, he has designed the on-air looks for two traffic and weather channels in Europe and created complete on-air identities at launch for Time Warner Cable’s Local News Group—creating distinctive, specialized design for 24 hour news channels in Tampa. Austin, Orlando, Raleigh, Charlotte, Albany, and Houston, plus logo designs for channels in San Antonio and Syracuse. Much of the later Time Warner work was done in collaboration with his brother, James Burns; they worked together as well as an interactive TV interface for AT&T Broadband and on a virtual set design for a CanWest Global TV health program in Ontario.
J.C.Burns is the recipient of numerous Broadcast Designers Association awards, New York International Film and Video Festival gold and silver awards, a Broadcast Promotion and Marketing Executives gold award, a PBS National Advertising and Promotion Award and three Southern Region Emmy Awards. He lives with his wife, the archaeologist Charlotte A. Smith, in Atlanta.