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.

Breaking Bad Props Auction: Tuco’s Grill, Hazmat Suits, and More

If you’re a Breaking Bad fan (like me) and have plenty of cash to spare (unlike me), you might want to look into the auction of the props from the show. The New York Times reports:

The “Breaking Bad” sale already lists Hazmat suits, a charred pink Teddy bear, a Lucite-encased grill and various automobiles familiar to viewers of the series, about White, a high school chemistry teacher who becomes a kingpin in New Mexico’s methamphetamine trade.

Tuco’s grill is up for grabs. My favorite is probably Walter’s edition of Leaves of Grass.

Notable item that’s not for sale? Mr. White’s mobile meth lab, a Fleetwood Bounder RV.

Are TV Shows Better than the Movies?

David Haglund argues that we should stop saying TV is better than the movies:

Who was the first person to say that TV is better than the movies? It’s probably impossible to say, but the argument in its contemporary form may date to October 1995, when Bruce Fretts—with “additional reporting” from 10 (!) of his colleagues atEntertainment Weekly—offered, over several pages, “10 simple reasons why the small screen is superior” to the big one. Even if you didn’t read it at the time, the piece will feel strikingly familiar: Replace NYPD Blue and The X-Files with Mad Men and Breaking Bad and the argument made by Fretts is more or less identical in its essentials to the one that over the last six or seven years has appeared in TimeNewsweek, the New York Times, The Wall Street JournalVultureVanity FairEntertainment Weekly (again!), and on blogs too numerous to count.

The TV-is-better argument is, above all, an attempt to narrow the range of what sophisticated viewers feel obligated to watch. Yes, such polemics sometimes serve other purposes. (Shaming Hollywood studios out of making another board-game-inspired blow-’em-up and turning to taut, Breaking Bad–style thrillers instead, for instance.) But generally the TV-is-better argument is a way of saying, “I don’t have to keep up with the movies anymore, and neither do you.”

I disagree!

But I do think Mr. Haglund has a point here:

For one thing, when we talk about television, we are almost always only talking about American television. Maybe we’ll include a few British shows, but rarely do we grapple with foreign-language efforts, the way serious moviegoers have been doing for decades. And while the source of most cinematic creativity in the United States has for the last few decades probably come from independent filmmakers, there is not really any such thing as independent television. (The medium, for the most part, just doesn’t work that way.) So while the best movies come from an intimidating diversity of sources, and present a similarly wide range of aesthetic approaches and aims, the best TV shows tend to come from three or four American cable networks and frequently follow a familiar model. (It’s like The Godfather, only in modern-day New Jersey—or in the advertising world, or the New Mexico meth market, or in Hollywood …)

Read the entire argument here.

David Simon on Building Things

David Simon, the creator of the TV show The Wire, has some thoughts on critics in a New York Times interview. The quote I bolded below is especially relevant, not just for the media, but for life in general:

Q. Are you surprised that “The Wire” has had the afterlife that it has?

A. Of course. We were making something that might have a shelf life, we hoped. But whether it did or it didn’t, we didn’t want to make anything else. So we were willing to go down in flames, and it was very delicate trying to get the last two seasons made at HBO. And it starts over again with “Treme,” and everybody watched the first two episodes of “Generation Kill” and says, “Oh it’s not ‘The Wire’” or “It doesn’t know where it’s going.” Nobody knows what anyone’s building until it’s built.
 
Q. Of course now we’re in the era of instant episode recaps.
A. The number of people blogging television online — it’s ridiculous. They don’t know what we’re building. And by the way, that’s true for the people who say we’re great. They don’t know. It doesn’t matter whether they love it or they hate it. It doesn’t mean anything until there’s a beginning, middle and an end. If you want television to be a serious storytelling medium, you’re up against a lot of human dynamic that is arrayed against you. Not the least of which are people who arrived to “The Wire” late, planted their feet, and want to explain to everybody why it’s so cool. Glad to hear it. But you weren’t paying attention. You got led there at the end and generally speaking, you’re asserting for the wrong things.
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Recap: IBM’s Watson Dominates at Jeopardy!

“I, for one, welcome our new computer overlords.”

So wrote Ken Jennings as part of his correct response to the Final Jeopardy! clue in tonight’s final game between Ken Jennings, Brad Rutter, and the newcomer, IBM’s Watson.

Though it didn’t do as well today as it did in match 1, Watson had another impressive showing in Game 2, earning $41,413 and combined with his $35,734 in game 1, won the two-day affair with combined winnings of $77,147. At the end of the Double Jeopardy! round, Ken Jennings computed that he wouldn’t be able to beat Watson even if Ken wagered it all, so he wagered conservatively in Final Jeopardy!. The category was 19th Century  Novelists and the clue was:

“William Wilkenson’s ‘An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia’ inspired this author’s most famous novel.”

All three contestants got the right answer: Bram Stoker, who wrote Dracula (I got it right at home, playing along). In the end, Ken Jennings wound up with $24,000. Brad Rutter came in third with $21,600 in winnings. Of course, IBM’s Watson was playing for charity, and the cool $1,000,000 prize will be split between World Vision and World Community Grid.

Overall, I was very impressed with Watson’s showing. And yes, I was wrong with my prediction that I made last week. The last three days on Jeopardy! have been a blast.

So what’s next for IBM? According to the New York Times:

For I.B.M., the future will happen very quickly, company executives said. On Thursday it plans to announce that it will collaborate with Columbia University and the University of Maryland to create a physician’s assistant service that will allow doctors to query a cybernetic assistant. The company also plans to work with Nuance Communications Inc. to add voice recognition to the physician’s assistant, possibly making the service available in as little as 18 months.

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References:

1) Selected Nuances of Watson’s Strategies (How does Watson know what it know?)

2) Watson’s Wagering Strategies (excellent blog post from one of IBM’s researchers)

3)  All the questions and answers from Game 1 (part 1 and part 2) and from Game 2 in this Jeopardy! contest between Watson, Ken Jennings, and Brad Rutter.

 

A LOST Reflection

May 23, 2010: “The End.”

Six months ago today, the television series LOST came to its final chapter. LOST is (was) favorite show on television—far and above any other I’ve ever seen. I watched every episode religiously, and the only show to which I would tune in live (in general, I watch television shows when they come out on DVD).

I remember six months ago, just as the show ended at 11PM, how I felt. Relieved. But also shaken and deeply saddened. This was The End, and I couldn’t imagine finding another TV show to which I could cling to as strongly (it hasn’t happened yet).

After the final episode aired, I read a number of reviews and sentiments across the web. I was going to do a round-up of the best write-ups, but I never got around to it. So I thought: why not do it six months afterwards? So below I highlight two of my favorite recaps, with a few thoughts of my own. Please note: if you’ve never watched the show or saw the finale, there are SPOILERS ahead!

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