Live television is controlled chaos dependent on the skills and experience of those in the control room. There has to be a balance between what was planned and what is happening. Being nimble in the extreme is what makes a great broadcast team, whether in news, sports or entertainment.
It is not easy. The variance between great broadcast teams and the lesser ones is obvious to anyone who’s watched the YES Network team do a Brooklyn Nets game ... and anyone else. Others may have a shtick or a gimmick to carry them through the two and a half hours. YES has the sheer professionalism.
The Athletic’s Rustin Dodd got inside the YES Truck last week during the Nets loss to the Pacers, their last loss and the only one without any drama. The Pacers destroyed the Nets by 29. Might have better if Dodd was there either of the last two nights, tight games with exhilarating climaxes.
Still, what he saw makes for a great story as he examines the interplay between the Nets on-air and production teams, led by Frank DiGraci (pronounced DeGrace). He’s produced Nets broadcasts almost as long as Ian Eagle has called them.
In addition to the talents of Eagle, Sarah Kustok and Michael Grady (or Ryan Ruocco and Richard Jefferson) DiGraci has his directors and producers, camera men and researchers, plus nine camera angle ... and, as Dodd describes them, “four sheets of paper, taped down in a row. They contain every facet of the broadcast, including sponsored bits, promos and the story lines they want to cover.”
It’s the basis of the night’s call, and DiGraci tells Dodd, “At the end of the night. This will all be crossed out.”
Dodd writes about how all DiGraci’s assets get used. He cites one example...
Big man Jarrett Allen collects a pass underneath the basket and is fouled from behind by Indiana’s Aaron Holiday.
In real time, the play seems simple enough. But right away, DiGraci notices two things. “He was all alone, calling for it,” DiGraci says, speaking to those inside the truck. They need that shot. Then, DiGraci sees something else. Holiday jumped so high on Allen’s back that he partially landed on Allen’s trademark afro. He landed on his hair, DiGraci says, and for a moment, I think he’s still talking to the truck. Then the two-shot replay comes into focus — wide shot from the opposite end, close-up of the foul — and Eagle, who also heard DiGraci’s tip through his headset, delivers the perfect line.
“He actually touched fro,” Eagle says, as the second replay comes onto the screen. “And the fro is full!”
DiGraci loves the game, knows it. He says that basketball, particularly the NBA version, is a different animal than football or baseball.
“We’re not slowing down for you,” he says. In television, the pace of baseball offers the luxury of time. The structure of football is made for television. But basketball is a different beast. “It’s going,” DiGraci says. “That’s what I love about it. It’s … fast.”
And he has the casts of casts. Eagle is the captain of the on-air team. His preparation is legendary, his calls pitch-perfect (pun intended). And like any captain, he keeps his team in high gear and on their toes.
Dodd recounts a quick discussion he had with Eagle and Kustok about team chemistry, broadcast team chemistry that is, that shows Eagle’s wit is not limited to what we see and hear on the air.
Kustok says the on-air partnership works because the chemistry is real. “He’s one of my dearest friends,” Kustok says.
“I don’t feel the same way,” Eagle deadpans.
But most of Dodd’s piece centers on DiGraci and his role as the general. After all, it was DiGraci who put Kustok in the analyst’s chair, who kept peppering RJ with notes telling him there was a place for him on YES whenever he decided to retire. Gotta love those moves.
As Dodd reports, the team is finally getting its due, thanks to the Nets summer of success. YES reports that ratings are up close to 47 percent from this time last season. Games are drawing a .56 TV household rating in the massive New York Market, about 40,000 homes. Two years ago, it was 27,000 and three years ago when the Markinson era began, it was a little more than 20,000.
Now, with the Nets hoping for big moments, YES is hoping for, ready for big moments. John Filipelli, the president of programming and production at YES, believes his crew and DiGraci will be ready.
DiGraci lives for the big moment. “It’s never too big for him,” Filipelli tells Dodd.
“How you chronicle a moment is almost as important as the moment itself,” Filippelli says. “Because it’s how people are going to remember that moment. You’re building their memories.”
- ‘We’re not slowing down for you’: Behind the scenes with the YES production crew during a Nets game - Rustin Dodd - The Athletic