Sports Television The Tattoo

Inside ESPN’s SportsCenter

Bristol, Connecticut, U.S.A. — The critically-acclaimed ESPN daily sports recap show, SportsCenter, isn’t as easy to produce as its laid-back anchors make it look.

The hour-long program that viewers see is the result of hours of behind-the-scenes work by dozens of people.

Recently, ESPN opened the doors of its Middle Street studio to The Tattoo, showing who puts together the nation’s top sports news program and how it’s done.

Highlights ­ video clips of a game’s most exciting plays or most interesting moments ­ are born in the screening room.

Young interns spend their time watching all of the games going on that day, paying close attention and taking notes. Their work is crucial to the SportsCenter anchors, who rely on “shot sheets” that give a play-by-play of the chosen highlights.

Later, interns take the tape of the game to an editing suite and boil down hours of competition to a few seconds or a minute of the best action.

The length varies depending on the importance of the game.

While this is going on, anchors learn what the night’s highlights will be and prepare their own scripts. Each anchor has his or her own style on the air.

Sometimes, anchor Dan Patrick said, “One word can describe” a highlight clip. Other times, Patrick added, they “let the action speak for itself.”

On every show, anchors use graphics to show statistics or spice up quotes.

Artists and designers in the graphics department use their skills to make the backgrounds of the statistic displays seen on SportsCenter.

In the studio, camera operators set the stage, arranging anchors’ clothes and microphones.

Displays are set up where the anchors will sit so colors and centering will come out right. The last thing anchors want is to appear a weird color on screen or have the camera not centered on them while they’re talking.

If everything isn’t set up right, the anchors could appear blue, green, or any other color in the rainbow.

Just because the show starts doesn’t mean the action stops.

Assistants off-camera frantically hand shot sheets to the anchors to read as highlights are shown to viewers. Sometimes, the anchor hasn’t even seen the highlights yet.

Anchors read their own scripts on the TelePrompTer, a box under the camera that scrolls the text as fast as the announcer reads it.

Highlights also run on a small television monitor inside the SportsCenter desk, so anchors aren’t reading blind. But they also face the tricky task of continually switching between their monitor and the shot sheet they hold in
their hands.

If this isn’t hectic enough, next to each anchor is a computer that feeds in late-breaking information for the anchors to relay on the air.

The SportsCenter set isn’t the only busy place during the show. The control room ­ the show’s nerve center ­ is also bustling with activity.

The control center is what makes SportsCenter work. The people there have to keep on their toes for any mistakes during the show so they can be fixed right away.

Inside the control room, some television monitors show what viewers see. Other screens show what alternate cameras are recording but is not being broadcast.

Behind a lighted control panel, ESPN experts can let an anchor know through an earpiece that something is wrong, feed visuals for viewers at
home or correct problems as they crop up.

This drive for perfection ­ but relaxed on-air attitude ­ makes the show, as anchor Charley Steiner described it, “the comfortable brown shoes in everyone’s living room.”

Collin Seguin is a Reporter for Youth Journalism International.

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