Producing live television events: fast, flexible, accurate and fair
Producing live events — particularly sporting events — is an exercise in making accurate
split decisions, while maintaining calm, patience and flexibility.
Producers not only create content, but also manage the production team. They
must be decisive and make multiple astute decisions, for the ability to communicate
quickly to the production team can make or break the live sports moment.
For example, producers call out replays and review real-time graphics, never
knowing when “the moment” is about to happen, but ensuring the team is ready
to roll with highlighting it when it does.
Shott Assistant Professor R. Charles (Chuck) Scatterday teaches sports production
courses as part of the Reed College of Media’s Sports and Adventure Media
major, including serving as the executive producer of Mountaineer Playbook,
the senior capstone sports broadcast course. He offers and explains five
basic sports production tips below:
Television Production 101: Tips for managing content
No is an acceptable answer. No is an acceptable and honest answer in a live sports television production.
Think about it: You’re producing a replay tape sequence during a live event
and you’re about to execute that sequence when you hear over your headset,
“No, X-machine is not good!” As the producer, you change your course of
action in real-time and instead transition to a different video tape source
to tell the story. The viewer is none the wiser of this near on-air blunder.
One bonus tip: It’s live. If you mess up, own it, learn from it and move
on. You can’t do anything about it after the fact, and to wallow and anguish
over the on-air hiccup is not helpful to the broadcast. Longtime ESPN sportscaster
Chris Berman would often say,” It’s off to Pluto, and you can’t do anything
about it now.”
Produce from your position. Regardless of the position you have on the crew, produce it. If you are
the audio mixer, mix the best game ever. If you are the associate producer,
produce the best graphic idea with your operator. The bottom line is that
your team must look smart, from the on-air talent to operations, and it
builds camaraderie and team chemistry. Mentor and former ESPN senior coordinating
producer Mo Davenport would remind us on college football Saturdays to
“produce from your position,” no matter the position.
Listen, think (quickly), then answer. Listen and think before you speak, but then say it. Being succinct is
one of hardest things to do in a live sports television event. Your ability
to pivot in a moment and have your entire team on the same page with as
little as 15 seconds of advance notice is key to successful execution on
the air. Your ability to distill the information that needs to be conveyed,
from what sources and by whom, with acknowledgment from various positions
within the broadcast truck, will make or break the moment.
Walk a mile in the other person’s shoes. Walk a mile in someone else’s shoes is an old saying, but is also a nod
to a former college mentor. Alex Gavula was the general manager of WWVU-FM
(U-92), the University’s campus radio station. During live radio broadcasts
in a learning environment, Alex would remind us that some of our radio
teammates had never done live radio. It was our responsibility to treat
them with compassion and empathy as they learned by “walking a mile in
their shoes.” Alex would simply say, “walk with me” or “walk a mile,” and
you knew. Consider that the next time you put on the producer headsets.
Be accurate in your coverage; you have an obligation to the viewer. Some would say that it’s just a sporting event, but your first obligation
to the viewer is to be truthful and accurate with your documentation of
the event. Your words, or the on-air talent’s words, matter, and there
are consequences that go with those words. The viewer has invested in the
broadcast, and you have a duty to deliver the truth – the facts about the
event, the score, the key moments, such as highlighting a key injury or
when the game turns around for the other team. You can’t assume viewers
know what has happened unless you show them. As the producer, you need
to remind, tell the story and constantly update the storylines with your
broadcast team and be accurate in your reporting.
Sporting events and their accompanying broadcasts are meant to be fun and entertaining.
Fans set aside time to watch, and some will record the event and replay the
game repeatedly. Others will watch or listen to the event on their smartphones,
and some will even travel to away venues to support their teams in person.
Viewership is increasing, as are the high stakes for broadcasting a compelling
An average of
17.3 million television and digital viewers have tuned in
during the first quarter of the season, a 17% increase from last
year. CBS’s viewership is up 22% from last year, and ratings for
ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” are up 24%. (Source: Front Office
Sports, Oct. 12, 2021)
NBC revealed Monday that more than one-third of U.S. televisions tuned
in as Brady's new club, the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay
Buccaneers, clawed out a 19-17 victory over Bill Belichick and the
Pats at Gillette Stadium. The 34 share, a percentage of televisions
in use tuned to the game, generated by the Buccaneers-Patriots, established
a record for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" package. The game was
the most-watched Sunday night game in nearly nine years and pulled
in the broadcast's second-best ratings ever, based on preliminary
data, since the network began airing "SNF" in 2006. (Source:
USA Today, Oct. 4, 2021)
The broadcast should be fun and entertaining but must operate as a working
environment with professionals in every broadcast position ready to manage
content with the producer. It all starts and ends with the producer, but
how she or he manages the team and those “moments” may in fact define the
broadcast. Be ready for the moment!
Before joining the College of Media, Scatterday (MSJ ’92) worked at the
network level for ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC Sports and was part of the launch
team for ESPN News and ESPNU networks. He previously served as operations
manager of West Virginia Media Holdings LLC and as executive producer with
the Nexstar Media Group, producing Mountaineer GameDay and the Bob Huggins
and Neal Brown coaches shows for WVU Athletics. He also manages a personal
media company, Scatterday Night Live Productions.
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