ESPN converges on Penn State

Mark this down as a preseason victory for Penn State football – abundant attention from ESPN and its family of networks and shows.

Following the likes of Alabama and Oklahoma in previous seasons, the Nittany Lions will be featured on “ESPN All-Access: Penn State Training Days” beginning Friday.

The series promises “behind-the-scenes access to on- and off-field play, team meetings and campus facilities.”

What amounts to an embedded production crew hit Happy Valley when the team opened preseason camp last week. Excerpts from what they found will be shown on “College Football Live,” “SportsCenter” and multiple ESPNU shows starting late this week.

The filming will end Aug. 20, and a five-part series of 30-minute specials focusing exclusively on Penn State will air on ESPNU beginning Aug. 21.

It’s the right kind of attention at the right time for the Nittany Lions.

Last season, people watched to see how Penn State would respond in the immediate aftermath of unprecedented controversy and NCAA sanctions. Although much of that backstory remains, the positives in the past year for the football program have been plentiful.

Penn State coaches and student-athletes typically shine on TV – and series producers know they have a strong focal point with engaging and opinionated coach Bill O’Brien. His emotion and honesty will play well on camera.

After that, Penn State will push offensive lineman/academic standout/student-athlete spokesman John Urschel. Still, it will be fun to see what other people catch the attention of producers and get exposure.

For the Nittany Lions to be featured on a series that previously spent time with national championship-caliber programs means good things in terms of perception. Those who watch will get a look at Penn State’s facilities and people – things that typically rank as strong selling points for potential recruits.

Framing FS1

A central Pa. native has helped shape the programming lineup Fox Sports 1, the all-sports network set to launch Saturday and challenge ESPN for ratings and viewers.

Erin McMullen, from Lewistown, serves as manager of programming and acquisitions for FS1. She’s part of the team that ensures content exists to round out the daily 24-hour broadcast window.

While FS1 might hang its hat on college football, NASCAR and UFC, the best-of, countdown, highlight and preview shows McMullen and her team secure will enable the network to fill its broadcast commitments.

She’s been working for months already (her team plans months in advance of when things actually air) helping set program schedules far beyond this Saturday. So she plans to sit back and watch as FS1 makes its debut.

“It’s exciting to be a part of something that’s getting started,” she said. “When [Saturday] comes, hopefully we can just relax and watch. It’ll be special.”

Tuner tidbits

n The “Penn State Preview Show” on the Big Ten Network will make its debut at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

n As a viewing guide for Fox Sports 1, watch for “fun” to propel the network’s approach. While it’s not clear what that means, Fox personalities and spokesmen have championed “fun” at every opportunity. It could be bad if that leads to frivolous or silly, or if FS1 in any way channels the “Best Damn Sports Show Period” – the lightweight and silly former Fox Sports Net offering.

n Separate shows about Penn State men’s and women’s basketball, both produced by Penn State Public Media, were among the nominees announced Aug. 1 for a Mid-Atlantic Emmy in the Sports-Program Series category. The Penn State nominees were “Penn State Basketball: In the Paint” and “Courtside with Coquese: One Step Closer.” Regional Emmy Award winners will be announced Sept. 7.

n Sports broadcasting legend Gil Santos was inducted into the New England Patriots team Hall of Fame on July 29. Santos, 72, worked Patriots game from 1966 until his retirement after last season. Santos was the voice of Penn State football on radio for several seasons. He also worked games for the Boston Celtics, Brown University and Providence College during his career.

Steve Sampsell covers the broadcast side of sports. He’s on Twitter @talkingtvsports, writes at online, and may be contacted at with comments.