PSU grad in middle of ‘super’ telecast

Commentary

Sports on TV can be unpredictable, but for people watching the Super Bowl tonight there are two guarantees: First, Patriots receiver Chris Hogan will get some airtime and, second, the postgame trophy presentation will get the attention viewers expect — especially if New England wins.

Rich Russo, a Penn State alumnus working his third Super Bowl as director of the broadcast for Fox, will make sure both things happen.

Russo has a personal affinity for the Hogan storyline. Both played lacrosse at Penn State — Russo in the 1980s, when he set a single-game record with 10 goals, and Hogan, who followed his career as a Nittany Lion by playing one season of college football at Monmouth University.

So expect the Hogan story to be shared at some point with the 160 million or so people who’ll be watching the game.

In terms of the trophy presentation, the tension between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the Patriots organization in the wake of the “deflategate” controversy means it could produce compelling interaction.

“I promise I will stay on them and won’t go anywhere else. I know that’s a moment people are curious about if New England wins,” Russo said.

All in all, expect a steady broadcast. Producer Richie Zyontz and Russo lead what might be the best TV team covering the NFL. For the big game the network has about 350 people on site. Play-by-play man Joe Buck and analyst Troy Aikman lead the on-air group. They’re complemented reporters Erin Andrews and Chris Myers.

Plus, Fox features one of the most unrivaled talents on sports TV, rules analyst Mike Pereira. Other networks have tried on-air rules experts, but none compare in their ability to clarify or opine in a timely manner.

This marks Russo’s 14th Super Bowl assignment. His first game was in 1986 as a broadcast associate with CBS. Before directing games for Fox, he directed the international broadcast six times.

For a normal NFL game, Fox uses about a dozen cameras. Tonight’s game will offer more than four times that number. Counting small stationery cameras focused on the game clock and embedded in end zone pylons, Fox will have more than 90 cameras in the stadium.

Russo likes close-up reaction shots, often in slow motion if it’s a player who made a mistake. He also likes traditional angles for game action. So, high-sideline angles making viewers feel like they have the best seat in the house will be appropriately common.

He will offer Skycam shots live on some kickoffs and for replays.

“We’ve talked about that a lot,” Russo said. “Those shots can be interesting but for game action people expect the sideline shots.”

The work of Russo and the Fox team begins with the pregame show just before kickoff, which includes the national anthem. A separate production team, in a different production truck but using some of the same cameras and camera operators, produces the halftime show.

Tuner tidbits

n Oh, that $7.21 monthly fee for ESPN? According to SNL Kagen, which follows the industry and those numbers, that’s up from $3.26 in 2007 — a 120 percent increase. That’s in large part a function of fewer cable subscribers overall and increased rights fees the network has committed to pay for to conferences and leagues to produce live coverage of their games. Almost all cable networks face some loss of subscribers as people “cut the cord,” but few have the outlay for expenses that ESPN does.

n Among the interesting segments in the hours of pregame programming for the Super Bowl will be the traditional interview with the president of the United States. This one might be anything but traditional, though, with Fox’s  Bill O’Reilly asking questions of President Donald Trump. O’Reilly did fine in similar situation with President Obama a few years ago. How Trump does will probably be debated and determined by individual viewers’ political affiliation.

n Super Bowl Sunday marks the end of his season and a path to semi-retirement for legendary ESPN talent Chris Berman. He’ll work the ESPYs, some postseason baseball, have a small recurring role on “Monday Night Football” and then handle some postseason football. Mostly, though, he intends to enjoy the spot duty while enjoying time in Hawaii.

n Everyone appreciates the pull and TV power of the NFL and that was never more evident than Monday when three different networks — ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and NFL Network — covered “Super Bowl Opening Night.” That’s three different networks for three hours of media interaction and talking heads.

n Country superstar Luke Bryan will sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl while Lady Gaga provides the halftime entertainment.

n A new-look nightly 6 p.m. “SportsCenter,” hosted by Jemele Hill and Michael Smith, makes its debut Monday.

Sampsell can be reached at stevesampsell@gmail.com.

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