Wednesday, April 22, 2009
From time to time, I like to get interviews with certain media members or player, and today's one is perfect for Draft Week. ESPN gave me the opportunity to ask NFL Draft Producer, Jay Rothman, ten questions about the "Leader's" coverage of the Draft, and here were his responses. Hope you enjoy, and gain some insight as well....
Q&A w/ ESPN Senior Coordinating Producer Jay Rothman, who will oversee ESPN's NFL Draft telecast for the 15th year in 2009:
1. Having worked on the NFL Draft with ESPN for multiple years, what are some of your favorite memories?
Every year it’s intriguing because there seems to be a different controversy of who the better quarterback is. We had the year with McNabb, Couch, Culpepper, Akili Smith and Cade McNown to Eli and Phillip Rivers and Roethlisberger. Then there’s Leinart and Young, and Aaron Rodgers and Alex Smith, and Rodgers dropping and Brady Quinn’s drama. Even Harrington and Carr. Although it was a forgone conclusion, we debated that. And who really knows with Stafford and Sanchez. Stafford seems to be the bona fide No. 1 and Sanchez the hot guy that everyone is going after. The easy thing that sticks in your head is the quarterback debate that always comes up, everybody looking for that franchise quarterback. So I would say the quarterbacks and how we broke it down.
Other memories that stick out are the crazy things: when Parcells threw Sal (Paolantonio) out of the New York Jets camp. I think that was the year Keyshawn was drafted. The lights going out at Madison Square Garden, and the show going pitch black. The Lawrence Phillips debate with Theismann and Mel. Stuff like that.
Needless to say, the best stuff is some of the unique moments that we capture, Joe Thomas fishing or David Carr’s plane landing in Houston. Somehow, some way, the bizarre seems to fall into our lap. When the Vikings failed to make a pick before the clock went out, that became absolutely frenetic. When they forgot the card and the cards started flying at the table, it made for unbelievable drama, but all of a sudden for us the planes are stacked up. It makes it really difficult for us to get out of that turbulence. Great TV can be very complicated for us, and that’s kind of the stuff that happens.
One year we had Boomer Esiason on the set and we were ready to introduce him as the new voice of Monday Night Football, and we were set to do that with the Jets on the clock. Peyton Manning was drafted that year and we came out of the break and Boomer’s on the set, the Jets traded the pick and Peyton was there on the second set ready to be interviewed. A couple of coaches popped up on the video conference ready to be interviewed. That’s the nature of the draft. You go from what you think is logical to all this stuff that happens in a moment’s notice and it’s chaos.
2. How soon before the Draft do you begin the planning and scheduling?
There are things that go on that keep the process going year-round, and it never leaves your thought process, but it really begins in earnest once the college and NFL season ends. We go full-on. It’s getting to Mel and now McShay right away to try to flush out who are the top players in this class. It’s getting a team of people together to compile the best and worst of these players on video. This year it was how can we better clean up the screen and be more innovative by going in HD – having the SD feed in the 16x9 format to take advantage of the screen. Each year we try to successfully implement the technology we used during football coverage over the last year, so this year we will utilize the EA Virtual Playbooks and ESPN Axis technology and repurpose some of it in the draft show. We also try to find those unique wrinkles to consistently raise the bar year after year. Our goal is always to create a better, more innovative presentation. We have days and days of storyline meetings, team by team, so we are on point with all 32 clubs. We also talk about how to properly highlight the great moments of the last 30 years and even our history and tradition that makes us really the voice of the draft, which we take great pride in. We also spend a lot of time on talent. What’s the best pool of talent and how do we deploy our talent in the smartest and most efficient way? How do we break them down and have them deliver information?
3. What are some of the stats that you can give? (i.e. - number of cameras, number of personalities, total coverage hours)
Well, it’s challenging on tight 51st Street in New York City. For the first time we’ve taken up both sides of the street. But it’s not so much the number of cameras per se like it is for an NFL game that’s a ‘wow.’ In Radio City we have multiple sets – three sets – plus the green room, Todd McShay back in Bristol working the “magic board,” day 2 we’ve got another set fired up. Between 32 sites of video conferencing, and 17 remotes, we are looking at close to 60 locations all told when you include player locations and draft parties that are seamlessly integrated into the show. That stat probably impresses me the most.
4. It seems like in years past, ESPN has tried to fit various different personalities into the program. What makes this year's group special?
We have scaled down the talent in the actual draft show so that on day 1 we are really bouncing from our main set of four guys to Herm and Trey, Mort for news and information, Erin Andrews in the green room, and Todd McShay on the video board, and everything else is live shots and reporters. We are more fleet-footed. We’ve scaled back. We’ve reduced the number on the main set to move the ball around and keep the show in Radio City on day 1 where the buzz is, with the exception of showing the dozens of players and their reality unfold.
Mel is the staple. He is our E.F. Hutton. It’s groundhog day for Mel, and with draft fans there’s an expectation on Mel. McShay is a guy who’s earned his stripes. He’s as credible as Mel when it comes to breaking down players and he’s done so for a while. He deserves this stage, and finally we have a foil for Mel. We’re going to give them an opportunity to debate. Todd gives us the ability to have another credible go-to guy in terms of breaking down players and educating fans about who these kids are and identifying their strengths and weaknesses. We have the ability to do some unique things with Todd and Mel together and with Todd separately with the “magic board” and the ability to forward spin the show.
This is Berman’s 29th draft and that just shows his passion for this event and for the NFL. This is the most difficult studio job out there – bar none. As we’re flying by the seat of our pants behind the scenes, he’s got to do it seamlessly in front of a camera and as flawlessly as possible. There’s a big difference there. To dance like he dances for a big guy, and rock and roll based on this unscripted, unformatted show for the length of time that it is, it’s a very difficult thing to do. And I would argue that he and Mel really made the draft what it is today. Mel certainly did for his unique skills but there’s no question Berman helped make the draft what it is today. All those years of doing this thing and to keep wanting to come back year after year.
When Steve (Young) opens his mouth, it’s a ‘wow.’ What we did unique this year is we have made Steve the lead-off hitter for the NFC teams and Keyshawn the lead-off for the AFC teams. Aside from the obvious of having Steve break down the quarterbacks and Keyshawn break down Michael Crabtree and the receivers, we split up the league with them to help us balance their roles.
By moving Mort from the main set to another set, we are basically giving him the opportunity to focus on more news and information – who’s moving in, who’s moving out, what are the trade rumors he’s hearing? He will have the ability to aggressively work the phones during the show. We’ll get to him often but it further defines his role and allows him to do what he does best and not be prohibited by sitting on a main set. Inevitably, when you have less, less is more. By sheer numbers, it will allow us to be more fleet-footed, moving from set to set rather than being mired in a large set of talent.
We want to utilize Herm as a head coach and as a guy who sat in the draft room, especially on day 1. Put us in these draft rooms and give us that perspective. What do you look for in certain types of players? What he has given us in the meetings up to this point has been great. He spent four years as a scout, so he has a unique perspective that we plan to utilize. And Trey Wingo has proven himself as the year-round voice of our NFL studio show by taking on NFL Live like he has. Obviously, he’s proven his abilities as a very able host, his ability to ad-lib and his knowledge of the game. He can set up his analysts and he’s a very good interviewer as well. He has all the skill set to do an incredible job and he takes great pride in the fact that he’s doing this show.
5. Erin Andrews is close to College Football, but she hasn't covered the NFL for the network in her tenure at ESPN. Why make her the Green Room Host?
The decision really started with Suzy (Kolber) whose responsibilities shifted from day 1, where she is part of the preview show and hosting an A-list group of analysts with Cris Carter, Tom Jackson and Trent Dilfer during the first two hours of the draft on ESPNEWS. She is also essentially co-hosting day 2 on Sunday with the same group. Therefore, she was taken out of the mix. It was best for Trey to remain with Herm on that second set in Radio City, so we felt Erin would be the best person to be in the green room. She’s got a great personality, she’s aggressive, she’s well-liked by the players. It was really a no-brainer to have her back there. She is eager and doing her homework, and truthfully she has a lot of contacts that we don’t necessarily have, and she’s using those contacts within the world of college football to get a lot of unique and different information for us, whether it’s calling Mark Richt at Georgia or Pete Carroll at USC. She’s going to not only do interviews but her ability and skill-set as a sideline reporter is going to lead to unique nuggets and information that she is gathering. She will also react on the fly to the drama and tension of the green room. We’re relying on her sensibilities and smarts to help us translate to the viewer the tension and drama and excitement of that room, and to react accordingly. The players’ familiarity with her from college football makes her a great fit.
6. Along those same lines....Why no Kornheiser this year?
The big reason we had Tony in 2007 was really to introduce the new Monday Night Football team, and that clearly was the play. It was a new booth and a vehicle to recognize that and introduce them in a highly-rated show to sort of get the buzz out, and that was the only year we did it. We’re actually two years removed from that, so it’s really a non-factor.
7. How has the NFL Network's broadcast of the Draft changed ESPN's approach in recent years?
It really hasn’t changed our approach. The good thing is it has made us hungrier and put our radar up to not take for granted our success. It’s great to have another player in there. It makes us sharper and makes us work harder – to be more aggressive and want to differentiate. It’s not so much what are they doing versus what are we doing. It’s just made us work harder to ensure that we are indeed the network of choice.
8. Much talk has been made of a move to primetime for the Draft. Do you feel that would be a wise timeslot, and do you see it happening anytime soon?
Given the length of the two rounds on Saturday with the start time at 4 p.m. and the off-time around 11 p.m., it already is in primetime, and I think we are in a better position right now to get more eyeballs.
9. The Draft will be aired in HD for the first time ever. Why the wait in producing the program in high def?
It really came down to a truck and facilities that we were able to obtain in New York. The picture quality will be better, and, for the HD audience, there will be an additional bar of information and Draft-related content that the SD audience will not be getting. However, the SD screen is going to be in a 16x9 letterbox format. We are giving a bigger screen to the SD audience and taking away some of the clutter by fine-tuning some of the information along the BottomLine. We probably could have gone HD a year ago but this year we were able to obtain the same truck that we use for Monday Night Football and we decided to go for it. In the past we had left and right columns of information, in addition to the BottomLine, and it was just too busy. This year we have built everything into the BottomLine, kept more video in the 16x9 and provided the HD. In using the MNF truck, we are also using a bigger truck, which we realized we needed to do this show.
Note: the Radio City and Bristol portions of the Draft will be in HD, along with taped elements. Remotes and team videoconferencing will continue to be in SD.
10. Any other surprises planned for this year's telecast?
We’re up to 17 remotes on day 1 with players in the draft who will be outside of Radio City, which is a record for us. We’re really excited about that and feel it will be a point of differentiation with our coverage. Between the nine who will be in the green room and being with 17 players, we almost have half the draft’s players on day 1. A great surprise to me is that one of our cameras will be with receiver Quan Cosby of Texas, who will be with Bill Cosby at a theater in New Jersey. They’re not related but they struck up a friendship. If Quan gets picked when Cosby is there performing his show at the theater, he’s going to stop to introduce Quan. That’s a unique twist that’s in the line of Joe Thomas fishing with his dad. We’re also going to be with the top four running backs in the draft – Beanie Wells, Donald Brown, Knowshon Moreno and LeShon McCoy.
Drew Rosenhaus will also have a group of players he’s representing with him in Pennsylvania. He’s got a group of 2nd round guys -- McCoy (Pittsburgh), Darius Butler (Connecticut), Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest), Louis Delmas (Western Michigan) and Cornelius Ingram (Florida) – so we have depth into the second round, which I like. It’s not just at the top and the buzz is over. The other big thing is that Rosenhaus represents Anquan Boldin, Plaxico Burress and Chad Johnson, so storyline guys like that who may be traded before the draft or on draft day, we have a beat on the NFL angle too.
The last thing I would add is that we had access to the Combine for the first time, which allowed us behind the scenes with 43 players. For us, it’s more of the glam that we got out of it, not so much sit-down interviews or features, per se. It allowed us to do the magazine-type poses and things like that that help the elements of our show, both in the front-end highlight package and in the bumpers coming in and out of commercial breaks. We did some really unique stuff with motion and still photography. It elevates our look and feel.
Many thanks to Jay, and ESPN, for taking the time out of their busy week(s) to answer those so thoroughly.