In 1982, CBS broadcast its first Final Four after gaining the rights to the NCAA Tournament from NBC. That year, in New Orleans, Dean Smith’s North Carolina Tar Heels crushed the hearts of John Thompson’s Georgetown Hoyas in a classic title game where a young Michael Jordan hit a jumper from the left wing with just 17 seconds to go to give Carolina the lead for good.
Thirty years later, CBS is back in the Big Easy to crown another national champion and hopes for just as thrilling a finish in this the second year of its March Madness partnership with Turner Sports.
“I think we did as good of a job, if not a better job, this year on the creative side,” says CBS Sports Chairman Sean McManus about the CBS/Turner union. “I think the production was first rate. The blending of the CBS and Turner team both in front of and behind the camera was as seamless as it was last year. I couldn’t be happier with the way the partnership is working with Turner.”
After another month of strong Nielsen ratings across TBS, TNT, and truTV, CBS is back alone at center stage for this weekend’s Final Four, and the production elements are set to receive a significant boost.
According to Harold Bryant, executive producer/VP, production, at CBS Sports, the biggest addition to the telecast is Red Bee Media’s Basketball Multicam System, which is referred to as “Virtual Madness” on-air. The replay-analysis system stitches together multiple camera angles, providing a swooping view of a play and allowing more-descriptive diagramming and breakdown by analysts Steve Kerr and Clark Kellogg.
“We’ve gotten it in a lot more than I thought,” says Ken Aagaard, EVP of operations and production services for CBS Sports. ”It’s pretty versatile considering it’s all about rendering time and turning it around in the closest realtime mode that we can. Red Bee has been really successful for us and a lot of that comes from the production people coming up with the ideas. Clark was really excited about it because it’s a really nice analytical tool for him.”
Although specialty cameras, including a super-slo-mo and an extra low-slash-position camera, joined the arsenal for the Regionals last weekend, the 12-camera complement will be further ratcheted up by five to eight additional cameras for the game alone inside the Superdome. Actioncam will also be deployed, run by the game crew operating out of F&F Productions’ GTX16.
“We try not to overuse it,” says McManus of Actioncam. “It does get some reaction — a lot of it positive, some of it negative. It’s a different view, and I think it shows how the players are spaced in a better way. But I don’t think we have overused it, and it will be used sparingly [this weekend] as it has been in the past.”
CBS’s presence inside the Superdome will be supplemented by a live studio show. An additional 10 cameras will be deployed from F&F Productions’ GTX15 for studio programming, which will star host Greg Gumbel and analysts Greg Anthony, Seth Davis, and Charles Barkley courtside.
“We have extended our footprint a bit into the student section,” says Bryant, “and we’ll have a set that very much complements what we have had in the studio [throughout the tournament], with a nice big video wall in the front of the desk.”
From a venue standpoint, this is the fourth year of what CBS refers to as the “monster configuration,” where the court is constructed right in the middle of the football field. However, adding a unique wrinkle into CBS’s production plans, this was the first year in that stretch where a Final Four site did not serve as a Regional host the year before. In 2011, the Superdome was undergoing renovations, so the New Orleans Regionals were held at New Orleans Arena, the home to the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets.
“So this will be new ground for us,” says Bob Dekas, coordinating producer of college basketball at CBS Sports. “We surveyed last summer so our plans have been in place for about nine months, but it’s new for us to not have that experience.”