Forget that CBS will have a staggering 23 cameras at the Super Bowl, one for every player on the field plus one for the water boy. Forget that colorful John Madden and cool Pat Summerall will be among 12--count 'em, 12--commentators.
The fact is that what we see this Sunday, and to a certain extent what we hear, will depend on two men: TV producer Terry O'Neil and director Sandy Grossman. O'Neil is responsible for all football production at CBS. Grossman has directed two previous Super Bowls.
Both men sat down separately last week for a brief Q-and-A. Herewith, everything you wanted to know but were afraid to ask about America's real national pastime: pro football on television.
Just what is it that you do?
O'Neil: "The producer's function is to orchestrate a nice marriage, a nice blend of live pictures, commentary, graphics and replays. When you see a telecast where all these things are fitting together smoothly, the producer is doing his job."
Grossman: "I'm the eyes of the fans. I have to put together all the elements that are going on live and project an overall image for the viewer at home. Going to the coach, shooting the crowd, cutting to Hacksaw Reynolds on the sidelines, whatever it takes to project the whole story, I do."
How many replays are too many replays?
O'Neil: "In our system I'm responsible for replays. It's the single toughest thing about a football telecast. When you figure each team is going to snap the ball about 65 times, you have to make that decision 130 times at the line of scrimmage. I don't know what the answer is. You try to go with intuition. You try to feel it. You try to take it from the fan's perspective: 'Is there something in that play that demands seeing again?' "
Grossman: "There's no such thing as saying there are too many replays unless you use them as a show of strength. If there's a controversial call and you can show six different angles, it's not too much . . . To me, good replays show what happened and what caused it to happen. But to show them just to say, 'Hey, I got all these replays!,' I think that's wrong."
What's your policy on cheerleader shots?
Grossman: "I have no ground rules as to how many. If I were sitting in the stands I'd have the option of taking a peek at the cheerleaders in between plays . . . I feel like my eyes should roam just like yours would in the stands. If the game's boring, the more your eyes roam. If the game's boring, the more my eyes roam."
How often do you give instructions over the earphones on what Summerall and Madden should say?
O'Neil: "Instruction is a more pointed word than what I do with them. During the NFC championship game, the 49ers turned the ball over six times. The fifth time, I said to Vinnie (Scully), 'Remember, this is a team that turned the ball over the fewest number of times in the NFL this year.' That's a fact that Vinnie knew and had well in hand from his preparation. I just felt this was the timely moment for it to come out. At the same time I told the Chyron (graphics) coordinator to call up a graphic that said roughly the same thing. Then I told Sandy (Grossman) to give me the Chyron over a shot of the San Francisco offense coming off the field."
Why do some directors show so many crowd shots? We see an awful lot of those whacko characters . . .
Grossman: "You talk about the home field advantage. Well, I think there are certain times the crowd is as much a part of the story as the teams that are on the field . . . If you're showing the crowd in place of action, then it doesn't belong. But as long as you're covering what's important and showing people what they want to see, say a reaction shot from the coach or quarterback, then it's okay.
"I've instructed my cameramen not to show the guy with the multicolored hair. He's out of bounds. Being on camera is his only purpose in being at the ballpark . . . I've also told my cameramen not to show the guys taking their shirts off in subfreezing temperature. The first time it was a story. Now every nut who wants to get his face on television takes his shirt off."
What's new this year?
O'Neil: "The Chalkboard (a special monitor that provides a wide-angle view of all players on the field, allowing Madden to diagram plays). I think you'll find it used rather extensively. It basically came up during some long Saturdays watching games with Madden. He'd say, 'Why can't we shoot the field wide the way photographers do for coaches?' I'd always respond, 'John, if you shoot the field wide, the players become too small. The casual viewer doesn't have any focus or road sign of what to watch or where to direct his eye.' We came up with the Chalkboard, a kind of electronic stylus that Madden can use to give a miniclinic to the uninitiated."
Are you doing anything to broaden the game's appeal?
O'Neil: "The pregame will be plenty broad enough to appeal to casual viewers as well as football fans. It's designed to be a mix of Xs and Os, civic participation . . . I think you'll find it has a nice range. When the game gets under way, we think Madden has a common man's touch with the game that is perhaps broader than other analysts.' "
You've got three cameras on the pregame, two in the locker rooms. That still leaves 18 cameras, including 11 replays. How can you possibly keep track of that many?
Grossman: "The problem is when they're put in the hands of persons who feel compelled to use them all. With that much equipment, you have to be that much more selective with what to put on. Six or seven cameras will be our basic focus. The extras will give us the luxury of shots we didn't have before. You can lock in on a coach and catch the despair or excitement you might not have been able to get otherwise. I liken it to a carpenter who has a whole boxful of tools. He only uses the ones that are necessary to do the job at hand."
What's the one biggest pitfall you face?
Grossman: "Look, it happened in the San Francisco game against the Giants. Montana went into the line in a play fake, my cameraman took the fake like everybody else, and then Montana threw a long touchdown pass. My guy recovered, but he missed the first half of the pass. That's one of those nightmares that you have. My obligation is to provide the best possible angle to viewers at home. When my guy misses something like that, I've failed."
O'Neil: "You could blow a big play. It could occur that you don't have it covered live and don't have it isolated (on replay). God, that's a sinking feeling. But we've designed a system where we don't think that can happen. It's a system we think is so comprehensive that no big play should elude us."