Turner Sports Fires Up New NBA Studio, Graphics Look

This season’s NBA on TNT tips off next week with a new studio, new graphics look, and a commitment to take its pre- and post-game studio show on the road at least twice: on Oct. 26, for the opening game (Boston Celtics hosting the Miami Heat), and on Dec. 2, when Lebron James returns home to Cleveland.

“There is so much anticipation going into this season and energy in the buildings, and it’s not just in Miami,” says Jeff Behnke, executive producer for Turner Sports. “There is a lot of intrigue across the league, and we’re taking our energy on the road as well.”

The studio on the road will have a different vibe from the new studio set, which features a massive LED wall and a 103-in. Panasonic plasma screen, says Steve Fiorello, coordinating director for Turner Sports. “We’ll try to keep it raw when we are on the road.”

When the studio team is at home, however, the feel will be different from that of every other studio show. The key is the video displays, particularly the Toshiba LED wall, whose pixels are only 4 mm apart, giving it a sharper resolution than more traditional (and cheaper) LED displays.

“It’s a great LED wall and has no fans, so that will keep it quiet. When [the wall is] as big as ours is, [the fans] can make a lot of noise,” says Fiorello, adding, “It will be the centerpiece, and players can be larger than life.”

Designed by Jack Morton Set Design, the LED wall and the Panasonic plasma screen will allow studio hosts Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley, and Kenny Smith to see replays and on-court action and interact with it in a way never possible before.

For example, traditionally, when highlights are run on studio shows, the host is simply providing a voiceover. But, when highlights run on the LED wall, the studio cameras will be able to capture both the highlights and the studio hosts’ reactions to slam dunks, sizzling rebounds, and fast breaks.

“When Charles is talking about a highlight, viewers can’t see the reaction,” says Fiorello, “but now they will be able to see how he reacts and the expression on his face.”

New ideas for how to maximize the impact of the LED wall are constantly being generated, he says, pointing out, “We can put video in part of the screen and stats in another part.”

Another cool trick that NBA on TNT will deliver on the LED wall is building graphic elements that, when placed on the wall in the context of the studio, appear to be architectural elements of the studio.

“Those elements will then animate to reveal video or stats,” says Fiorello.

Some of those elements will likely take advantage of the new graphic look, created by the Turner Sports in-house team. Four outside graphics houses submitted proposals for new looks alongside the Turner team, and executives chose their favorite without knowing who submitted what work.

Building the new graphics, in particular the show opens, required visits to NBA cities to grab scenic shots that will be closely tied to graphics revealed out of the video. That runs counter to traditional show opens, which typically begin with a graphic that then becomes a video element.

One thing that won’t change? The score bug.

“We stuck to the traditional bug concept and think we still do it better than anyone else,” says Fiorello. “We did some rough concepts of other looks but really couldn’t come up with anything that would differentiate us from others.”

With a new look and an improved studio show featuring more room for personnel and new toys, NBA on TNT is ready for tipoff. For Behnke and company, the trick now is to follow the bouncing ball of a season that promises plenty of storylines.

“We’ll establish storylines and then, as broadcasters, move them forward,” Behnke says. “We never go in saying we will give one team more attention than another. The word is anticipation: anticipate what will happen throughout the league.”