ONE NIGHT IN TV LAND
On Saturday night, Jan. 28 in Boston, I was given the rare opportunity to work with the Emmy award-winning Fox Sports Net crew for the Islanders game against the Bruins. Joe Micheletti was working an NBC game in Philadelphia, and they asked me to fill in as the color analyst on the broadcast. I had some previous TV experience doing a couple of years of Long Island Ducks minor league baseball and a pair of Bridgeport Sound Tigers hockey games during the lockout season, but radio has always been my area of expertise. I had never missed an Islanders radio broadcast in the previous eleven years, but I decided to give it a go and hope for the best. It was an eye-opening, thrilling experience for me, and I thought I would give you a "behind-the-scenes" look at what really happens on the other side of your television screen when you are watching New York Islanders hockey.
Play-by-play man Howie Rose and I arrive at the TD Banknorth Garden to cover the morning skate for both the Islanders and Bruins. We meet briefly with producer Kevin Meininger, director Larry Roth, and associate producer Charlie Cuchiara and graphics coordinator Pete McEvily to discuss the main storylines for each team as they enter the game, and to decide which players and coaches will be interviewed on videotape for part of the pre-game show and the opening segment of the actual broadcast. For the Islanders, the main focus will be on the recent goal scoring tear by Miro Satan, the return of Rick DiPietro to the net and to Boston, and the importance of trying to follow up Thursday's dramatic shootout win over Pittsburgh with another victory here tonight. For the Bruins, it's their great play of late, how well all three players involved in the Joe Thornton deal have performed, and of course the return of Brian Leetch to the lineup.
Kevin Meininger asks Howie to conduct all the on-camera interviews, while I work the dressing rooms gathering info, strategies and stories from both sides. The home team always skates first in the morning, so the Bruins are off the ice a few minutes after 11:00 AM. In the Boston locker room, Howie interviews Wayne Primeau, Marco Sturm, Tom Fitzgerald and Brian Leetch. I catch up with ex-Islanders Fitzgerald and Travis Green, head coach Mike Sullivan, and ex-Sound Tiger Ben Guite, who had just been called up from AHL Providence and was hoping to make his NHL debut following an ankle injury to another ex-Islander, Brad Isbister. I had a real comfort level working a visiting room with so many players I knew from their days on Long Island, and Green and Fitzgerald provided some great material that would make it onto the broadcast later that night.
The Isles hit the ice at 11:30 AM, and we all keep a close watch on Garth Snow, who is taking shots in full gear and will be ready to resume practicing this week. Near the end of the skate, Howie moves ice-side to conduct the "Behind the Bench" interview with head coach Brad Shaw. When the Islanders leave the ice, Howie has on-camera conversations with Brad Lukowich, Shawn Bates and Jason Blake. I've talked to almost all the Islanders throughout the week leading up to this game as part of my normal radio preparations, but I do make it a point to sit down with newest Isle Joel Bouchard to get his thoughts on his first game wearing the blue and orange Thursday night. I also meet with coach Shaw to get his insights on Thursday's and tonight's game, check his line combinations and any possible lineup changes, and talk X's and O's regarding what he expects from the Bruins and what he wants out of his own guys as well. Brad is great in this regard and almost overfills my notepad with great info I will lean on heavily during the telecast.
By 12:30 PM, all of the interviews are done. Howie and I will head back to the hotel for a few hours to organize our own game notes, while the rest of the crew stays at The Garden. Kevin will determine the exact format the broadcast will follow, much like trying to put together a giant jigsaw puzzle where everything has to fit just right. Larry will make sure that everything runs smoothly with the local tech crew that is brought in to run cameras, audio, videotape, replays, etc. Charlie edits and times all the interviews and highlight packages, while Pete works up the accompanying graphics.
We have a production meeting in the press room, where everyone is given copies of the completed format for tonight's broadcast. We go over every element of the broadcast from the start of the pre-game show until the post-game sign-off. All the final specifics of the highlights, interviews and graphics to be used are fully detailed so everyone is on the same page. Kevin walks us through the broadcast, but everyone else chimes in with information relevant to his specific area of input.
Kevin, Larry, Charlie and Pete head for the large control truck parked near the loading dock, while Howie and I go to the studio to cut the pre-game show. The local tech crew handles the studio lighting, cameras and audio. We are fitted with earpieces so that we can hear Kevin and Larry from the truck and they can hear us through our lapel microphones. Howie and I are given one run-through on our monitors of all the video elements involved, and then it is time to try it for real. We actually complete the entire segment on the first take, and the longest portion of the pre-game show is now behind us.
Howie and I head up to the television broadcast booth on the press level, and after being wired up with stick microphones, it's time to do the scene setter, which is almost like a shorter version of the pre-game show that will run at 7:00 PM. After a quick run-through, we put it on tape and now everything is done until it's time to drop the puck.
It's game time and now the broadcast is dictated by the play on the ice. DiPietro shines in the first period, making several key stops, and is the main focus of most of our replays. Kevin and Larry communicate with Howie and myself through our headsets, and we have a special talk-back button that allows us to talk to them without those words going over the airwaves. Kevin alerts me to all the replays on the way, and I can request specific replays from him as well. We talk to Joel Bouchard in the first intermission and Tom Fitzgerald in the second, and mix in a nice package of highlights during each break as well. The pace of the game and the broadcast both really take off in the wild third period, in which the Bruins grab the 3-2 lead before the Isles score a pair of goals 20 seconds apart to re-take the 4-3 advantage they would not relinquish. With just over three minutes to play, the crew does their best work of the night, putting together a replay with audio that clearly shows that Aaron Asham's disallowed goal crossed the goal line well before the referee blew his whistle - just great stuff.
The Islanders hang on for the win, and we get a chance to talk with Mark Parrish on the bench right at the conclusion of the game. Parrish is great, as usual, taking us through the set play off the faceoff between him and Shawn Bates that became the game-winning goal. Howie and I can barely hear each other speaking now, because the band Staind kicks into their post-game concert, and Parrish looks like he is just having a blast listening to the music and basking in the glow of the win. We finish with Mark and come back for one final wrap-up segment, but the band is so loud Howie and I can barely communicate with one another let alone the guys in the truck. Howie reads the closing credits and this one is in the books.
I just want to thank everyone on the Fox crew for making me feel so comfortable and putting me at ease throughout the entire week leading up to the game and during the actual broadcast itself. There is a reason why these guys are the best in the business, and I got to experience it first-hand on Saturday night. Every member of the crew took time out of his normal routine to offer helpful advice to ease my transition from radio to television. I also got a great phone call from Joe Micheletti himself on Friday night in my hotel room to wish me luck, even as he was busy preparing for his own broadcast down in Philly. The experience of that one special Saturday night in Beantown will stay with me forever. Thanks, guys.