CBS and NEP’s Well Oiled Football Machine Prepares for Freezing Temps

By Carolyn Braff

Sunday’s forecast in Pittsburgh calls for highs in the 20s with an 80% chance of snow, but luckily, CBS Sports and NEP’s well oiled production crew is equipped with anti-freeze. CBS Sports is also pulling out all the stops for its final NFL telecast of the season, bringing in extra super-slo-mo cameras and an Intertia Unlimited X-mo, although freezing temperatures add a new wrinkle to the production team’s finale.

“The production challenges we face change a little bit when it comes to the weather we’re dealing with in Pittsburgh this weekend,” explains Bill Niehoff, technical manager for NEP. “With single-digit temperatures, everything has to be in a heated area, which cramps everything a little bit. Where there normally might be only 10 or 12 operating positions, now you’re trying to squeeze 14 or 15 because everyone’s got to be in a controlled environment.”

The 26-camera show is CBS’s biggest of the season, but this crew — and the mobile support behind it — is no stranger to large-scale productions.

“The truck we’re using was built to do bigger shows,” Niehoff explains, “so adding a couple cameras or recording devices isn’t all that difficult, because the wiring is there.”

NEP Supershooter 24, complete with its A, B, and C units, never left Pittsburgh after the Steelers’ divisional playoff win last weekend, which saves on setup time. For the most part, in fact, the same 55-person crew has been working these same trucks since the season opened in September.

“About 90% of the people, we see every single week,” Niehoff says. “They know how to set things up for this week, and they also know how to put them away so they’re ready for next week.”

The luxury of not having to move the trucks made this week’s setup a breeze, so the crew is free to focus on keeping everything powered and heated between Wednesday afternoon and the final whistle on Sunday night — which is no easy task in this week’s sub-zero temperatures. In fact, last weekend’s weather forced the Skycam to remain grounded, which the production team is already working to prevent this week.

“Unfortunately, Skycam didn’t fly last week because we had an ice storm that got into the gear boxes,” Niehoff explains. “They came in [Wednesday] this week and were already starting to make sure their gear was weatherproofed and ready to go for this coming weekend.”

With Skycam operational, CBS will have four extra cameras this week that it did not have last week. Inertia Unlimited’s X-Mo super-high-speed camera, which shoots an average of 300 frames per second, will be set up at the 50-yard line, and an additional super-slo-mo camera will be set up in a low-end-zone position.

“Last year, we had a hard time matching the X-Mo to our existing cameras, but nowadays, they’ve got a newer system, and we’re starting to use it a lot,” Niehoff explains. “The low-end-zone super-slo-mo camera is the third one for our show. We normally have one during the regular season, we add a second one for Wild Card playoffs, and, by the time we get to the AFC Championship, we add a third.”

An extra handheld will round out the camera complement, and two single-channel Vizrt systems will provide graphics.

Sidelines will have some additional CBS personnel as well. For the first time this season, CBS will be using a sideline reporter on Sunday, bringing the weather factor into play once again. Also, extra parabolic microphones will be on the sidelines to amplify the audio coverage as well.

“The weather affects [sideline reporting] a bit because you have equipment waiting for people to go over and use it,” Niehoff explains. Hopefully, the equipment will not be frozen by the time the reporter arrives.

One thing is certain: expect the crowd to be loud, despite bundling up. “People will have gloves on so that’s going to muffle the sound a little bit,” says Lance Barrow, CBS coordinating and lead NFL game producer. “Other than that, the way the crowd is in Pittsburgh, I don’t think anything will hurt the noise. They get there early, and they stay late, and they make a lot of noise. We’re excited to be back in Pittsburgh.”