ESPN brings out best in PSU

Last week’s “ESPN All-Access Training Days: Penn State” – which aired on ESPN and on ESPNU – left everyone associated with the project happy.

For the football program, it was an almost-all-positive, blue-and-white infomercial. And that was accomplished simply by telling the story of the people and program.

For Penn State fans, it was a behind-the-scenes, hour-long piece of enthusiasm, happiness, honesty and even some humor. With the athletic marketing operation in transition, “Training Days” probably did as much to encourage people to attend games or buy tickets as any other effort the past six months.

People at ESPN loved the final product, too.

“Coach [Bill] O’Brien and everyone associated with the program were so accommodating. We had great access, and their personalities really came through,” said features producer Drew Gallagher, a Philadelphia native who was part of the ESPN team that spent almost every minute of every day for 11 days on campus. “Plus, in terms of the look, we got really lucky with some cloudy days at Beaver Stadium, when we could get those great time-lapse shots.”

While the ESPN team prepared for a breakout story about kicker Sam Ficken, others, including one about tight end-turned-tackle Garry Gilliam, developed more once the production team was on campus.

“There were certain ones where we had invested production time on the front end,” Gallagher said. “At the same time, you need to be able to read and react while you’re there. As we met people, watched how depth things played out along the line and learned more about Gilliam, that story became evident. That was a story, to me, that kind of encapsulated what this Penn State football team is about.”

Substantial switch

What represents a lifelong tradition for some Penn State fans ends this season as the typical post-game highlight/wrap-up show, produced in recent seasons by Penn State Public Media, will no longer air after games.

A Sunday morning fixture for decades despite taking different forms through the years – morphing from an hour to 30 minutes and from heavily game-action based to behind-the-scenes features and stories – the show has been renamed and repurposed.

Now called “Penn State Football: The Next Chapter,” the first episode is scheduled to air at 8:30 p.m. Thursday on WPSU. Expect slight changes in content as a result of the switch to a pre-game airing.

Tuner tidbits

n Former Penn State defensive coordinator and interim coach Tom Bradley, who worked pre- and post-game shows around Pittsburgh Steelers games last season, landed a regular assignment with CBS College Sports this season. He’ll work mostly Army games for the network. Ironically (and perhaps uncomfortably at some point), he’ll work on a broadcast team with author and talk radio host John Feinstein, who has been an outspoken critic of almost all things Penn State during the past 20 months.

n Former Penn State quarterback and longtime ESPN analyst Todd Blackledge provides recipes and recommendations in “Taste of the Town,” a recently completed book based on TV feature segments he has completed. Those sessions usually take Blackledge to a popular eatery in each college town he visits.

n “The NitWits,” now in 16th season and fifth on WTAJ-TV, will typically air at 11:35 p.m. on Sundays, beginning tonight. The show featuring a panel of Penn State football experts (the Mirror’s Neil Rudel,’s Mark Brennan, WTAJ’s K.C. Kantz and a weekly guest analyst) may also be found at and Altoona Public Access Channel 13 at designated times.

Steve Sampsell covers the broadcast side of sports. He’s on Twitter @talkingtvsports, writes at online, and may be contacted at with comments and story ideas. He also writes for the Mirror’s Gameday, published each Friday during the Penn State football season.