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Behind-the-Scenes: Predators TV Broadcast

by Thomas Willis / Nashville Predators

There are few things that rival the speed and intensity featured each night in the NHL. Every second requires an individual to make lightning-fast decisions and demands constant adaptation to the evolving surroundings.

In this instance, we’re not talking about the players on the ice, however.

We’re describing the scene taking place 200 feet from the sheet of ice at Bridgestone Arena in the Fox Sports Tennessee television production truck. Follow along as we see what’s involved to create a live Nashville Predators broadcast, thanks to our guide, producer David White.

Home Game Day:

10 a.m. - The on-air talent and a portion of the production crew gather for two meetings, with the first discussing the main broadcast and the other outlining the structure for the pregame show. White leads the team of broadcasters and crew in a discussion of what storylines should be featured on both the pregame show and throughout the evening’s telecast. Once those decisions are made, the plan trickles down to what highlights need to be pulled, what topics the unit’s broadcasters must prepare for and the graphics that should be created.

12 p.m. - The team reports to the truck located in the players’ garage and testing and preparation begins in earnest. Ultimately, a group of roughly 30 people are required to air the telecast, including seven camera operators and a dozen workers in the truck - the neurocenter of the operation.

Surprisingly, it’s not always a pro-Predators environment in the truck, however. When both team’s production crews are airing on a Fox Sports regional, both groups pile into the same truck with merely a curtain separating the pair of “opposing” TV teams.

“It can make it easy to exchange footage, but it can also make it a little dicey at times,” White said of the close proximity to another team’s crew. “You want to help out your fellow TV guys, but you also have an allegiance to your team, so you don’t want to share that perhaps a player is going to skate in that game when it’s not public knowledge.” (Pictured above: An away team TV crew sharing the production truck)

12:32 p.m. - After morning skate, a small video crew tapes an interview between Lyndsay Rowley, the broadcast’s rinkside reporter, and Predators Head Coach Peter Laviolette. It’s also at this time that portions of the show’s talent (for example, TV Play-by-Play Pete Weber and TV Color Analyst Stu Grimson) talk with the coach about lineup changes or other news they should know in advance of the night’s show.

5:30 p.m. - The talent and crew gather in their various on-air locations, including Terry Crisp and Mark Howard at the Fox Sports Tennessee Desk in the main concourse outside section 104; Rowley behind the Preds bench and Weber and Grimson in the broadcast booth above section 309.

6:30 p.m. - Led by pregame show producer Brett Newkirk, Nissan Predators Live! hits the airwaves as Crisp and Howard discuss the game’s key matchups and show videos on the Preds made both the day of and the week prior.

6:33 p.m. - Rowley records a two-minute interview with a Nashville player during pregame warmups that’s shown in the opening minutes after 7 p.m.

7:00 p.m. - The Predators broadcast opens with Weber and Grimson providing the headlines about the game, now just minutes from starting. Any pertinent lineup news or key stats are discussed and one or both of Rowley’s earlier interviews are shown.

7:08 p.m. - It’s at puck drop that the real fun begins. The speed and intensity involved in creating a live hockey broadcast sets in as the ability to truly plan what happens next comes to an abrupt end. The crew’s chatter level rises even higher as the action starts, with the talent talking to the director and producer, the director calling shots and communicating with camera operators and the group in the truck in a constant back and forth as well.

“That’s one of the hardest parts, is trying to understand everything that’s being said from the various people while you’re trying to plan what’s next,” White said. “I’m usually talking with the announcers to see what they’d like to illustrate next.

“It doesn’t stop for a commercial break either. Now we have a few seconds to decide what we want coming out of the break, whether that’s a highlight, a telestration, a graphic or so on. Those 90 seconds can go by so fast when you’re trying to watch back a replay you’d like to show or you're preparing Stu’s telestration.”

7:10 p.m. - At the first whistle, and again at the dozens to follow, the crew puts into place their first non-game footage piece of content, in this case a full-screen graphic of both team’s injured players with the announcers explaining any key notes on the topic.

“Almost every whistle we try to have something set up to show,” White explained. “But I always say, ‘Unless something happens.’ Because many times, we’ll have a goal replay that Stu’s wanting to break down further, but then there’s a fantastic save and you just have to throw that plan out the window.

“That’s the fun and the hard part of it. You’ve just set up everyone in the truck to show this graphic and this replay and they’re waiting to implement, but then something happens and [we have to] forget all that, now we have to do this. That’s the real juggling act.”

7:19 p.m. - During the first TV timeout, Rowley tapes an interview with a Preds player on the bench that’s then aired as the telecast returns from a commercial.

7:20 p.m. - As play on the ice resumes, it’s more controlled chaos within the truck. Director John Tackett yells for Camera 2 to follow the puck and calls for a cut to Camera 3 to show two players collide on the half wall, then requests a quick zoom and cut to Camera 5 for the players’ reaction as they skate up the ice. Plus, White is prepping Lead Tape Operator David Raynak to replay the hit from another angle at the next whistle while graphics is starting a scoreboard popout that shows the total number of collisions in the first frame.

“Most of the time I’m not watching the program monitor (what the viewer sees), I’m instead watching the other camera inputs to see which angle will produce the best replay and what shot we can go to next,” White said. “You can kind of get lost in the wall of TVs, because there’s just so much to look at and then you’re also looking at what the graphics person wants to put on the screen too.”

7:46 p.m. - The first period horn sounds with the Predators leading, but there’s no time to rest for the TV crew. The focus shifts back to the Fox Sports Tennessee Desk as Crisp and Howard analyze the game’s recent action and a video feature on Filip Forsberg is prepped to show after the first segment.

8:10 p.m. - During a pause in play in the second period, from the runway behind the Preds bench, Rowley is going over her questions for Nashville Assistant Coach Kevin McCarthy with Grimson via the crew’s constantly abuzz headsets while the TV feed is showing a replay.

8:11 p.m. - The second hit from the bench with McCarthy talking to the rinkside reporter is recorded with the broadcast in the midst of a commercial break.

8:23 p.m. - Bedlam ensues. The puck comes close to crossing the goal line off of a Predators’ player shot, but the referee on the ice rules no goal. The pace inside the truck quickens even more with replay angles being poured through by some crew members mixed in with Tackett calling for shots of coach reaction and the ref on the phone with the NHL’s replay war room in Toronto.

“You don’t want to rush to just start showing angles, because I want the first shot they see to be definitive on whether it was a goal or not,” White explained. “Most of the time, it’s the overhead angle shooting down onto the goal line that does it. But when that’s not the answer, I really have to think about how the play developed and remember what cameras are in that area and could potentially give the best view of the play.

“For instance, you might need to go to the ice-level angles in the corner to see the net in the right way…That’s when you have so many people in your headset trying to ask you a bunch of questions or give their suggestion to what you could do and you’re relaying info to the talent while they’re on the air...You have to know what to do at every second or you’ll get lost.”

8:25 p.m. - The review continues with Toronto using their constant stream of the overhead goal cameras and feeds from both the home and away broadcasts to make their final decision on goal or no goal.

8:27 p.m. - Moments after the no goal call is handed down, the Predators tally, this time with no doubt on whether the puck entered the cage or not. Watch the action below:

8:28 p.m. - The goal scraps a series of replays lined up by the crew and a graphic, but again, that’s all just part of the business.

“We build so many graphics and highlight packages that never see the light of day,” White said. “Then the next game it’s icing after icing and we’re trying to cover as much time as we can. You have be flexible, that’s for sure.”

9:41 p.m. - The teams exit the ice after a Preds win and the broadcast cuts to a player interview outside of the locker room.

9:49 p.m. - Grimson and Weber give their final thoughts on the contest from the TV booth and as the postgame show concludes, the production team finally pauses as their on-air work ends. The intensity that only built over the last dozen hours ends suddenly with the pressure of live TV gone as quickly as it began.

Of course it’s only 48 hours until the next broadcast, but maybe that’s the fun part.

“Honestly, I used to get extremely nervous during each broadcast,” White said with a laugh. “It’s a constant state of paying attention, listening, anticipating as much as you can and then reacting quickly to anything that happens. I enjoy it, but it’s so intense that after I get home I can’t fall asleep for hours. It’s an adrenaline rush for sure.”

White says the fluidity of a game means the demands of the TV production crew are repeatedly changing, but at least in part, that’s the appeal to the whole endeavor. After all, you can’t beat the action on the ice during an NHL game, that is, unless you’re sitting in a certain truck across the way.

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