(Copyright 1997. The Tattoo. All rights reserved.)

The Tattoo

--- Making a Permanent Impression Since 1994 ---

Feb. 17, 1997

Inside ESPN's SportsCenter

Tattoo Staff Writer

  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
  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
  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."

Click here to reach ESPN's Sportszone