What it Takes to Air a Football Game on FOX

Writing in The Verge, David Pierce traces what it takes for FOX to air a football game on a given Sunday. FOX is the network broadcasting the Super Bowl in 2014, so every game is essentially a preparation for the team that brings us close to the action on our televisions:

It starts at 6AM on Saturday, in the cold, dark Foxboro morning, as the Fox team shows up to unload three 53-foot trucks. Stadiums don’t have much in the way of built-in A / V equipment, so Fox (and every other network) carries everything the crew will need for the weekend inside those trucks — the show has to be built and broken down every weekend. This Saturday, it has to be even faster: there’s a college football game at 4PM.

Kevin Callahan, Fox’s director of technical operations, estimates Fox credentialed between 150 and 200 people for the weekend, from Troy Aikman and director Rich Russo to runners and microphone holders. The network brings in about $25 million worth of equipment, with thousands of individual parts. (Callahan is reluctant to even guess at the number: “It depends on how small you want to get,” he says. “I mean, the production switcher alone has 1,000 buttons on it.”) Callahan and his crew have to wire the entire stadium, rig up cameras and audio, and make sure hundreds of different parts are able to connect to each other. “This is actually a very well-oiled machine,” he says. “The mobile units that we’re using here were designed in 2005 and 2006 — at the time they were eight years ahead of their time.”

In one truck, graphics and production. In another, 20 feet away in the concrete garage underneath the stands, replay and audio. Russo estimates he has 15 cameras and 13 tape machines this week, capturing and replaying angles from all over the stadium — there’s even a helicopter flying around shooting from above. The graphics team, eight or so young guys in polo shirts, is preparing more than 1,000 graphics, with every record or outcome accounted for. Rich Russo and producer Richie Zyontz talk to everyone through speakers and headsets, voicing their constant chatter to the 150-member Fox crew throughout the weekend. Colby Bourgeios, the team’s technical director, sits at his giant switcher ready to put any camera, any person, any replay on TV with the press of one of a thousand buttons. Audio consultant Fred Aldous watches and listens on his own console, making sure everything sounds as good as it looks — in stereo and 5.1-channel surround sound.

Eventually, nearly everyone says, you just learn to do it by feel.

This bit on 4K television was interesting:

Fox has been using 4K cameras for three years, but not to broadcast the game, which the crew says would be pointless given current bandwidth and TV technology. It’s all about replay. “We can do things like zoom in, look at a guy’s foot… we can see precisely a nice, solid foot, and a line right there, and know that the guy is in,” says Colby Bourgeios, Fox’s technical director. This year is about fine-tuning — finding the right camera, the right lens, the right capture and extraction devices. But even when 4K works convincingly, Callahan says, “we need it to be the first or second replay. If we were to sit there and have a 4K replay that we could show two plays later… and that would have reversed the official’s call, well, that’s awful.” He won’t add anything to the Fox broadcast that will slow it down, or impede it in any way.

Good read if you’re into football and/or sports.

Alan Sepinwall on the Origins of LOST

Alan Sepinwall, writing for Grantland, recounts the origins of the hit TV show LOST, as told by the people who made it, in an exclusive first serial excerpt from The Revolution Was Televised:

On vacation with his family in Hawaii, Braun watched his network’s broadcast of the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, then went down to the beach to watch the sunset and meet up with his wife and kids. As he waited, he began pondering the idea of doing Cast Awayas a TV show, but couldn’t figure out how to make it work with only one actor and one volleyball.

“And then the notion of Survivor popped into my head,” recalls Braun. “I don’t know why. And I put it all together: What if there was a plane that crashed and a dozen people survived, and nobody knew each other. Your past was almost irrelevant. You could reinvent who you were. You had to figure out — how do you survive? What do you use for shelter, for water? Is it like Lord of the Flies? How do we get off the island, how do you get home? And I start to get very excited about the idea, and I start thinking about the title Lost.”

Also interesting and surprising was how one of the writers of LOST, Damon Lindelof, reacted to the show’s premiere:

Lindelof, on the other hand? He describes his response to those huge premiere ratings as “Terror, depression, anxiety, anxiety attacks. I’m not exaggerating. Everybody who was around me at the time knows I pretty much wanted to die, and knowing that wasn’t going to happen unless I took matters into my hands, I just wanted to quit. But there was literally no one to quit to.”

Cuse says, “I remember [Lindelof] coming in with the ratings after the opening episode, and he looked completely miserable. He said, ‘Does this mean we have to keep fucking doing this?’ If you’re a producer in television, this is like getting a winning lottery ticket: having a show that’s not only critically acclaimed but gets big ratings. But it was daunting to have to sustain this thing.”

I’ve placed Alan Sepinwall’s The Revolution was Televised on my Christmas wish-list.

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As some of you may know, LOST is my favorite TV show (to this day). Here was my reflection six months after the show ended.

(hat tip: Longreads)

Breaking Bad Going Scarface

If you aren’t watching Breaking Bad, the hit series on AMC, you are truly missing out. It’s my favourite show on television at the moment, and my third most favourite show all-time, after LOST and The Wire.

I wanted to highlight this piece by Emily Nussbaum (SPOILER ALERT!), who argues that the central character (Walt) is going Scarface on us. It’s a brilliant analogy, and for the non-spoiler version, see a quote below:

And yet, for all the show’s pleasures, its themes can be irredeemably grim, particularly now that the crutch of our sympathy for Walt has been yanked away. Each new episode arrives fraught with foreshadowing, with betrayal on the way—we know what has to happen, but not how. The show has shed its original skin, that of the antihero drama, in which we root for a bad boy in spite of ourselves. Instead, it’s more like the late seasons of “The Sopranos,” the first show that dared to punish its audience for loving a monster. This makes “Breaking Bad” a radical type of television, and also a very strange kind of must-watch: a show that you dread and crave at the same time.

The best one liner from Emily’s piece:

…[Breaking Bad] turns some viewers into not merely fans but enablers.

I can’t wait to see how the show unfolds!

Bracketology: The Quest to Determine the Greatest Character on The Wire

The Wire is one of my all-time favorite TV shows (together with LOST and Breaking Bad). So it was with great pleasure to learn of the show’s revival in a new contest held by Grantland to determine the show’s greatest character:

This gave us an idea. What if we actually did subject the key players of the Wire-verse to rigorous bracketological inquiry? If we played corner boys against dock workers, murder-polices against hoppers, and craven politicos against enigmatic not-actually-Greek human traffickers, in matchups as arbitrary and occasionally unjust as life and death on the mean streets of West Baltimore, would the king stay the king?

This week, we’re going to find out. And we’re probably also going to make David Simon mad, again. Behold: Grantland’s first-ever TV bracket. Thirty-two characters. Six days…

Grantland's March contest to determine the greatest character on The Wire.

The voting is done on Grantland’s Facebook page. I’ve cast my votes for today. Who’s in my final four, you ask? Omar Little, Jimmy McNulty, Avon Barksdale, and Stringer Bell. Jimmy McNulty vs. Stringer Bell in the finals. McNulty wins it all. What does your bracket look like?

Television in Putin’s Russia

There are two targeted TV audiences in Russia these days: older Russians who are nostalgic for their pre-perestroika youth and younger viewers who are curious about a Communist system that today seems unimaginable. This New York Times piece profiles some of the shows:

The jokes on a new Russian sitcom called “The Eighties,” are punctuated with faded archival footage; Moscow without neon or traffic and Russians lining up around the block to buy sausage. It’s a coming-of-age comedy like “That ’70s Show” or “Happy Days” but focused on the naïveté and insularity of Soviet society in a way that makes viewers feel sophisticated and modern. A nerdy university student tries to impress a pretty girl who just moved back from France. “When I was a kid, I went abroad too,” he boasts. “Mongolia.”

And Russia’s version of The Bachelor:

“Let’s Get Married!” is a dating show like “The Bachelor,” but without the time — or budget — for sunset balloon rides across Moldovan wine country or hot-tub getaways on the Black Sea. Instead, it brings a jolt of Slavic fatalism to romance: the bachelor has his choice of three eligible and comely young women, but first he must listen to the advice and commentary of a panel of older women who cross-examine him and the potential brides. Also, for no better reason than a flair for excess, the bachelor and his prospective brides sometimes wear theme costumes: he as a hussar officer and they as Tolstoyian ballroom belles, he as Aladdin and they as a harem of belly dancers.

Still playing today, my favorite Russian TV show is Что? Где? Когда?, a very exciting and challenging team trivia game.

Arrested Development is Coming Back!

Anyong! This is probably the most exciting TV-related news I’ve heard in the past six months. According to the New York Times, Arrested Development is coming back for a full-season. But there’s more, for all you never-nude fans: they’re also going to make a movie!

Anyone else as excited as I am?

The first episode…could focus on Buster Bluth, the deeply neurotic brother played by Tony Hale. “The latest joke we have,” Mr. Hurwitz said, “is that it’s Cambridge, Mass., and there’s all these scientists in lab coats and they’re waiting for somebody. Buster comes through the door in a white lab coat – ‘Let’s begin’ – and they say, ‘Oh, no, you don’t get to wear the lab coat. We’re experimenting on you.’ ”

I’ve recently been thinking about my top five favourite TV shows. Arrested Development is in the top five, and certainly number 1 in the comedy department.