With Sunday Night Football, NBC Won’t Settle for Less Than Best

Labor Day weekend has come and gone, there’s a chill in the air, and school buses dot the morning traffic. These harbingers of fall may signal the end of summer, but, year after year, they promise one thing: It’s football season again.

With the lockout a distant memory, NBC Sports Group opens the 2011 NFL regular season with a showdown between the past two Super Bowl victors. The Green Bay Packers host the New Orleans Saints tonight before NBC Sports’ weekly NFL window — Sunday Night Football — moves to its season-long home on, appropriately, Sunday nights.

“If anybody was concerned that there would be any aftereffects of the lockout, that was dispelled in our first [preseason] game,” says Al Michaels, who assumes Sunday Night Football play-by-play duties for the sixth season. “The NFL is as hot as it’s ever been.”

Adding the Exclamation Point
This season, NBC Sports will add another Inertia Unlimited X-Mo high-speed HD system to its Sunday Night Football camera complement, fitting it on a sideline cart that can also accommodate a regular HD camera and two operators.

“It’ll give you some really intimate looks at some unbelievably athletic plays,” says Fred Gaudelli, producer of Sunday Night Football, “whether it be a great catch, an amazing tackle, a motion, [or a]defining play where a challenge or view may be in question. It [will provide] an exclamation-point replay.”

Lessons From Last Season
Last season, NBC Sports Group debuted SMT’s Sunday Night Vision on Sunday Night Football telecasts. The technology, which allows analysts to turn the field black and illuminate the players in vibrant color, will be just one of many tools at the disposal of Michaels, analyst Cris Collinsworth, and Gaudelli.

“In the virtual world, so much is dependent on what kind of light you have in the stadium, what color the grass is, and the camera angle,” says Gaudelli. “In some places, like MetLife Stadium in New York, it looked tremendous, [and] we used it a couple of times. In other stadiums, not so much.”

Gaudelli and his crew plan to continue using Sunday Night Vision, but only if the conditions are right.

“It really helps when you’re looking at a frame where there are a lot of people,” he explains. “When you can isolate [certain players] against black, it really allows them to jump to the forefront, and it’s easier to follow.”

Sunday Night Football Expands Digital Reach
For the second straight season, fans logging on to NBCSports.com will see exclusive behind-the-scenes content on Sunday Night Football All-Access, including photos from the production, a look in on Sunday Night Football production meetings, interviews, and conversations with Sunday Night Football talent.

Sunday Night Football will once again stream live on NBCSports.com, and include additional camera angles and interactive features.  Sunday Night Football Extra, available in HD, includes a draggable picture-in-picture feature for any of the online-only cameras and full DVR functionality.

Looking Toward Super Bowl Sunday
On Feb. 5, 2012, NBC Sports Group will broadcast Super Bowl XLVI from Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, and preparations are already under way.

Having meticulously evaluated NBC’s latest Super Bowl production (2009’s Super Bowl XLIII from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, FL), as well as those produced by fellow networks, NBC Sports Group has an initial production plan in the works before the regular season even kicks off.

Gaudelli and Sunday Night Football director Drew Esocoff have already logged three survey trips to Indianapolis to determine camera placements and will certainly continue to rack up the frequent-flier miles throughout the season.

A Solemn Start
After tonight’s showdown at the not-yet-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, NBC Sports Group will kick off Sunday Night Football this Sunday, the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Fittingly, the New York-based network will present the game from New York, with the Jets hosting the Dallas Cowboys.

“We know that there’ll be a lot of mixed emotions for a lot of people as we reflect back on that,” says Collinsworth, who is joining Michaels in the booth for the third season. “I’m sure the NFL will do a spectacular job in a very classy way of presenting that evening and that day of football.”

Back to Football
As has been the theme throughout this preseason, the lockout is a thing of the past, and NBC Sports Group’s game plan is all set. Looking forward, Michaels, Collinsworth, and Gaudelli echo the same goal: be better than last season.

“We never really have a goal except to do the best job we can every year,” says Michaels. “After winding up as the No. 1 show in the fall overall [last season], that’s what we want to do again.”

He adds, laughing, “We’ve been threatened, Cris and I, from our bosses to be put on the waiver wire if we wind up as low as No. 2.”