Live from Final Four: CBS, Turner A Happy Family in Massive Three-Pronged Production

On the surface, Saturday’s Final Four marks the first time in the 78-year history of the event that it will air on cable. Behind the curtain, however, CBS Sports and Turner Sports are a unified force putting together the most technologically advanced college basketball production ever.

With three full-fledged productions [the main game telecast and two team-specific Teamcasts], two studio sets, and 38 cameras, including a plethora of specialty units, and RF sources, Turner and CBS have nearly doubled their production footprint this year.

L to R: Turner Sports' senior director Renardo Lowe is directing the Teamcast productions on TNT, while Turner's Director of Technical Operations Chris Brown is helping oversee the complex production.

L to R: Turner Sports’ senior director Renardo Lowe is directing the Teamcast productions on TNT, while Turner’s Director of Technical Operations Chris Brown is helping oversee the complex production.

But even though the Final Four won’t air on CBS for the first time since 1981, the network’s top production personnel couldn’t be more invested.

“The channel it airs on is almost inconsequential to us,” says John McCrae, Executive Director of Field Operations at CBS Sports. “The two words you will never hear anyone from production to executives to technical say is ‘us’ and ‘them.’ For purposes of the whole Tournament, we are one company.”

Three main production trucks with their own producer/director teams will produce three original shows that will air on TBS (main national telecast), TNT (Florida and Kentucky Teamcasts), and truTV (Connecticut and Wisconsin Teamcasts). All, however, will be pulling from the same crop of resources.

The Main Telecast
A total of 17 cameras fill the inside of AT&T Stadium to cover the game alone [another 13 are in place to capture two separate on-site studio sets]. Included in that arsenal are slash cameras in the lower left and right corners of the court. Super-slow-motion cameras have also been added above the shot clocks on each of the backboard. There are also slow-mos along to floor to grab a more intimate feel on replays.

Slash cameras are positioned on the court in the southeast and southwest corners.

Slash cameras are positioned on the court in the southeast and southwest corners.

“We’re trying to create as much access and bring [the viewer] as close to the court as we possibly can,” says Craig Barry, SVP, production, Turner Sports. “As we continue to move forward in this partnership, I think we all share the philosophy that we are only as good as our last Final Four. So always pushing the production to bigger and better places is something that we’re all very passionate about.”

After a successful trial run with the freeD replay system at the NBA All-Star Game, Turner ensured to make the technology – which is already installed by Replay Technologies at AT&T Stadium for Dallas Cowboys games – available for the Final Four and National Championship Game. SkyCam will also roam the airspace inside the stadium to capture its classic aerial images. F&F Productions’ GTX-16 is the A unit for the main telecast.

All of these acquisition sources are available to all three telecasts and the three teams will be working off the same burgeoning EVS network. It makes for a complex setup that both Turner and CBS are confident in.

“The good news is we’ve done a lot of homework with this,” says Chris Brown, Director of Technical Operations at Turner Sports, “and I have to say that CBS has been a great partner in terms of understanding what we’re trying to do with this and they have helped us to make resources available so that it is as painless as possible to get all of these feeds around.”

The Teamcasts

The NCAA reserved six additional slots of press row for the Teamcast annoucers. To give their local talent time on cameras, the production crews are using QBall robotics.

The NCAA reserved six additional slots of press row for the Teamcast annoucers. To give their local talent time on cameras, the production crews are using QBall robotics.

The buzz around this year’s Final Four is on the new team-specific Teamcasts. Turner and CBS will air simultaneous broadcasts on TNT and truTV, each providing a “hometown” broadcast for a participating team. The special features lined up by the networks include on-air announcers, graphics, replays, and studio sets that will make the fans of Florida, Connecticut, Wisconsin, and Kentucky feel right at home.

Technologically, each Teamcast has access to all of the main telecast’s 17 cameras and eight cameras are dedicated to the Teamcasts themselves for cutting in shots of the bench, coaches, etc.

“On a dead ball, our announcers are going to be talking about something very different from what Jim [Nantz], Steve [Kerr], and Greg [Anthony] are talking about on the TBS telecast,” says Renardo Lowe, Turner sports senior director who will be directing the Teamcasts on TNT. “It’s been a tremendously helpful collaboration [between all three productions] but we’re mindful that [director] Bob [Fishman] and his team are producing a Final Four telecast, which is pretty important for us. So part of the discussion is that I don’t really want them to even know that we’re here. We’ve planned it all out together and we talked but once they’re here its their show and we shouldn’t be in their thought process.”

Nearly 40 cameras fill AT&T Stadium, the most cameras ever to cover a Final Four.

Nearly 40 cameras fill AT&T Stadium, the most cameras ever to cover a Final Four.

Each Teamcast has their own handheld camera on the court to shoot the bench, an upper camera well camera for clear shots of the coach, and robotic QBall cameras courtside to allow for the announcers to get on-air face time.

“You want to embrace the differences but at the same time, our viewers, while they may want a Florida slant or a Kentucky slant, they still want to see the best replays and the best cameras,” says Lowe. “Even they wouldn’t want an inferior product for the sake of favoring one side.”

Don’t mistake these Teamcasts for simply supplementing a World Feed. Lowe and fellow Teamcast director Lonnie Dale are going much deeper than that.

“As a director I like to have control over my own destiny and to cut my own show,” says Lowe. “Now with so many cameras, we’re going to monitoring their show to see if they had the definitive look on something and we can turn that around for our viewers pretty quickly.”

In the compound, NEP Supershooters 18 (a regular NBA truck for Turner) handles one of the Teamcasts while Game Creek Video’s Patriot takes the other. Graphics operation is standalone in Patriot’s B unit for both Teamcasts.

Despite all of the talks of a unified force, the magnitude of this Final Four is not lost on Brown. He understands the magnitude of being the first cable network to carry the game on its air.

Rising to the Occasion
Despite all of the talks of a unified force, the magnitude of this Final Four is not lost on Brown. He understands the magnitude of being the first cable network to carry the game on its air.

“From a technical standpoint, it certainly puts the pressure on,” says Brown. “To step back to look at the collective partnership, it’s been very exciting to see that CBS’s technical operations is just as concerned as we are. We’re all coming together to ensure technical success because it is that important to all of us, and all of us as an industry. Not just for TBS but for cable partners everywhere. This is a very big thing for us.”