Capt. Nemo's sub a mere toy next to HTS control room

The TV repairman:

February 28, 1992|By Phil Jackman

Camera 1 is play-by-play, an overview. Camera 2 hones in on the action around the puck. Cameras 3 and 4 are hand-held at each end of the arena. Camera 5 waits for assignment. Wait, there's more.

Video Tape Recorder A records the hand-helds, B does the reverse angle from center ice at the top of the building and VTR 820 records the tight angle play of Camera 2. All this bric-a-brac is buzzing, whirring and delivering its pictures to a control board operated by five people playing with dials, switches, buttons and bows while keeping a check on various meters and the Dow Jones closing average. Still, there's more.

Fonts 1 and 2 are at the ready with overlays and graphics, and then there's the matter of wires, cassettes and microphones, relays and bypasses, cables and transformers. Remember Captain Nemo's submarine in "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea"? You got the picture.

A goal is scored by the home team, which in this case is the Washington Capitals. The control room of the sub goes wild.

"Goals are easy," says Bill Brown, who directs hockey, baseball and just about anything else that comes along on Home Team Sports. "Camera 1 stays with the goalie, 2 the scorer, 3 and 5 the crowd. VTRs A, B and 820 are backing up and readying their replays."

Within 15 seconds of the lights and sirens going off and as the players are celebrating, viewers get quick shots of the goal, crowd, scorer, crowd, goalie and now a flood of replays. Four go up on the screen in rapid order, three of them from different angles.

While Brown as director is delivering orders in drill sergeant-like cadence, producer Bill Bell constantly reminds the technicians of what's coming up, plugs in the commercials and graphics and keeps the guys in the announcing booth up to date so they can provide suitable commentary.

No sooner have things calmed down when, just 26 seconds later, Pittsburgh scores a goal. There's not as much celebrating, but the formula is worked to its fullest once again. And, for the next two minutes or so, replay machines are backed up to show not only the goals but the bloops, blunders and giveaways leading to them.

All the while, a red light blinks on and off, and everybody knows what that means: Commercials. "Coming out," says Brown, "we're going to show that big hit along the far boards by Alan May." Between periods, the folks in the sub get to relax for maybe a minute or 90 seconds, then it's back to the dials, switches, headsets, commands and the action.

Notice, HTS lets the game go on pretty much with one camera covering the action. "Simple explanation," says Brown. "We don't throw any [camera] switches in there because the viewer wants to follow the puck. It's easier if he's not distracted."

There are a lot of stoppages in play in hockey and it usually takes about 30 seconds to get things going again. "Mark that play," is something the director is saying constantly and it means the replay will be shown with the next whistle.

One time, Brown said, "mark that whole flurry," and when the opening arrived the viewer was treated to a wicked check, a turnover, a fine move by the puck-carrier, two terrific saves by a goalie and the inevitable milling/potential fight. All brought to you within 20 seconds. Classic stuff, although taken for granted these days.

Oh, a couple more things that factor into this organized frenzy is that game officials figure prominently into the timing of a telecast and then there's the matter of the feed being provided for the visiting team.

"The refs will tell you about it when you don't hold to the 30 seconds of a commercial break and, if you're a repeat offender, they'll just disregard the red light," says Brown. Oh-oh, the potential for a missed goal, easily a mortal sin.

As far as the out-of-town feed goes, it's just more people of what seems like hundreds who have to be kept up to speed. After all, fans in Pittsburgh and elsewhere aren't interested in some of the stuff earmarked for local consumption, so they have to know when to go to the clean feed.

Over the course of 2 1/2 hours, the show seemed to move as smoothly as if it had been post-produced for a week. "We've been together for a long time, since HTS went on the air in 1984," said the director. "We're a pretty good team." And the gang has the Emmys to prove it.

* Good news for you Jim Palmer fans out there. Ol' Jimbo, 45, has signed on for 25 HTS broadcasts of Oriole games this season, doing commentary (yay), play-by-play (boo) and joining regulars Mel Proctor and John Lowenstein for three-in-the-booth on occasion.

* About 90 percent of all fights are over-hyped. Showtime has one tomorrow (10 p.m.) that has no doubt been under-hyped: DTC Azumah Nelson (35-2-1) and Jeff Fenech (25-0-1) are meeting for the WBC super featherweight title in Australia in a rematch of a controversial draw last June.

How good was that brawl? The bout was on the undercard of Mike Tyson-Razor Ruddock II and produced sufficient action to occasion its own special on the cable the following week.

Producer Jay Larkin, who has been Down Under for two weeks, says he has been shocked at how big a deal the fight is in the minds of the Aussies: "It's like a Super Bowl setting here. Fenech is very popular here and the locals feel he was robbed of the decision in Las Vegas."

The announcers who did the first fight and who will be on hand for the replay, Steve Albert and Ferdie Pacheco, agree. It's the first time a fight is coming live from Australia and Larkin is excited about the three-satellite, two land-line setup. . .until the first messup, that is.

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