NBC “Sunday Night Football” producer Fred Gaudelli balances network innovation and viewer irritation in trying to improve the football TV experience.
Particularly, with the basic task: how a play starts at the line of scrimmage.
If you didn’t notice some of the nuanced changes during Sunday’s Rams-Browns game from Cleveland, that’s all good by Gaudelli, who despite 30 seasons as the lead producer on NFL prime-time games and the last 14 with NBC’s package isn’t prone to snap judgments in making things better.
“No one is complaining about the way it’s covered for the most part, so you don’t want to ruin the experience, but if you can make it better . . . ,” Gaudelli said before Sunday’s telecast.
“But I say this all the time to my group: There’s got to be a better way to cover the game. That’s what we’re really trying to search for. We’ve been searching a long time. I don’t know if we’ll find it in my producing lifetime. But somebody’s going to find it.”
On a night when the first of three Rams’ appearances on the Sunday night national game went up against Fox’s coverage of the Prime-Time Emmy Awards, Gaudelli put his own Sports Emmy resume to the test in continuing to harness the potential of the overhead Sky Cam.
NBC had already been using the joy-stick controlled camera on cables that swoops around above the field during its Notre Dame coverage, with various degrees of success. Gaudelli studied tapes of those experiments and went to more extremes during the last NBC exhibition NFL game before deciding it works in certain places and times, and not in others.
With about eight minutes left in the first half Sunday, as Cleveland was inside its own 12-yard line during a 3-3 game, Gaudelli went with the Sky Cam angle on back-to-back plays. Both times, viewers got to ride into the play in something of a swooping motion as it developed –- the second time, as the Rams’ Aaron Donald chased Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield –- and do so without suffering motion sickness.
Gaudelli says the success of the shot is a tribute the synchronization of camera operator Ed Martino as well as pilot Cody Taylor, “who not only are skilled with the technology but have a knowledge of the game.”
“We are still going to break it out very judiciously,” Gaudelli said. “It’s all about when it makes sense and it gives the viewer a better look.
“But I have to admit, it’s a lot riskier when I’m counting on a couple of guys sitting at the top of the press box rather than a guy on a camera atop a tripod when there is a lot more certainty to what he’s doing.”
BY THE BOOK
New NFL-based oversized books worthy of their girth:
== “NFL 100: A Century of Pro Football” edited by Rob Fleder (Abrams Publishing, $50, 290 pages).
In breaking down the league’s history by decades, it excerpts stories from writers such as Paul Zimmerman, Michael Lewis, Dick Schaap, Red Smith, Frank Deford, John Schulian and David Halberstam.There also are gems from Jim Murray, who describes Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach to be “as square as a piece of fudge” and Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown as “someone who didn’t kick or throw the ball into the end zone, he arrived with the ball.”
== “NFL 100: The Greatest Moments of the NFL’s Century,” by Craig Ellenport (Triumph Books, $29.95, 240 pages).
A forward by Troy Aikman sets the tone for this ranking of events, and includes the birth of NFL Films (at No. 4), Congress approving single-network TV deals in 1961 (No. 31) and the RedZone Channel launch (No. 100) amid a handful of media-specific notations.
== “The People’s Team: An Illustrated History of the Green Bay Packers,” by Mark Beech (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35, 400 pages)
A franchise and a fan base, many of them actual shareholders, somehow stand the test of time and are documented in all their mythology and magnificence by the former Sports Illustrated scribe. There’s a chapter devoted to how Curly Lambeau, the team co-founder, player and coach in 1919, “went Hollywood” on them in the late ‘30s, buying a home in Malibu and a ranch in Thousand Oaks.
Also look for: “100 Years in Titletown: Celebrating a Century Of Green Bay Packers Football,” by photographers Vernon and Jim Biever (Triumph Books, $40, 288 pages, due Oct. 1)