2013 NFL Preview: NFL Network Takes a Page From NFL Films’ Playbook for Thursday Night

Week 1 of the 2013 NFL season is in the books, and, with the notable exceptions of Peyton Manning’s offensive onslaught and the Andy Reid-led Kansas City Chiefs, there was nary a blowout to be found. Which is exactly what the NFL Network storytellers like to see.

“Up until the final seconds yesterday, we didn’t know if we were going to have two 0–1 teams or two 1–0 teams,” says play-by-play commentator Brad Nessler, prepping for the New York Jets’ visit to New England on Thursday. “It would have been interesting enough and compelling enough a story. But now, with the way those two games ended — the Patriots, trying to have to find new guys for Tom Brady [he found them when he had to in the fourth quarter to win by a field goal] and then [Jets’ QB] Geno Smith — [it] became quite a story.”

That story — veteran QB against neophyte, secretive Bill Belichick versus quirky Rex Ryan — takes center stage on Thursday in the first of NFL Network’s 13-game Thursday Night Football slate. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET with the Craftsman Presents NFL Total Access Kickoff pregame show live from Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, MA.

Last season, NFL Network expanded its Thursday Night Football schedule from eight games to 13 and upgraded to Game Creek Video’s Glory and Pride.

“The Game Creek trucks were phenomenal; obviously, they are back again this year,” says Mark Quenzel, SVP of production and programming, NFL Network. “When you are doing a show as big as we have, not just the game but obviously the pregame — sort of the traveling circus — having that kind of consistency and technology available to you is critical. Our goal is to give Brad and [analyst] Mike [Mayock] as much as we can give them to work with as they describe the game.”

This season, NFL Network has added a dedicated NFL Films directive photographer who will shoot solely for the Thursday Night Football broadcast and will shoot the cinematic-type footage characteristic of NFL Films (24 frames per second, as opposed to 30) to create 10- to 12-second packages.

Quenzel had the idea to incorporate the “look and feel” of NFL Films directly into the broadcast after watching footage shown at a ceremony honoring late NFL Films visionary Steve Sabol. Although NFL Films has long deployed cameras to every game, this season marks the first that its cameras will be available for in-game use.

“We are going to bring out a couple of NFL Films cameramen; these are the guys that shoot those incredible, beautiful shots that you get used to from NFL Films,” says Quenzel. “We are asking them not to shoot the game per se. They are not following the ball. They are shooting around the game. They are shooting what happens on the left side of the line with a match-up there. They are shooting all the things that happen that are inside the game that you would be watching if you were on the sidelines and that you would notice. And they are shooting in NFL Films style.”

After experimenting with one or two cameras in the pylons last season, NFL Network determined that getting this technology to air will not be a priority in 2013.

“[It] turned out to be a little bit more of a challenge than we thought,” Quenzel explains. “Obviously, the pylon is in play. You’re going to put a camera literally into the field of play, so to speak, so you’ve got to make sure that it’s not going to affect the players or the play, and we have spent a lot of time messing around with it. I think we probably still will mess around with it. It works; it has some really incredible shots on the goal line and on the sidelines. Right now, it’s just not consistent enough, and there are other things we want to focus on.”

NFL Network will deploy 21 cameras for each Thursday Night Football broadcasts, including three RF cameras provided by Aerial Video Systems and a blimp.

The network will also debut a ChyronHego telestrator, which will give Mayock an arsenal of advanced animation capabilities. Josh Cohen, known in the truck as the “Mayock Package producer,” will build four or five packages for Mayock to break down and show off his strengths as an analyst.

“Mike’s strength is really showing you in a replay how to play the ball, what happened, and the key to that is being able to show our audience where to look,” says Quenzel. “It doesn’t always start with the ball, obviously, and, with these hurry-up offenses, it is a challenge to get in one replay, never mind two. We are always looking for faster ways to do things, and [now] we have this telestrator, which we think will help a lot.”

NFL Network’s pregame coverage features host Rich Eisen and analysts Steve Mariucci, Marshall Faulk, Deion Sanders, and Michael Irvin. Additionally, NFL Network reporters Alex Flanagan and Stacey Dales and NFL Network’s national insider Ian Rapoport will offer the latest news and insight leading up to kickoff. The Lexus Halftime Show and the postgame show provide additional analysis live from inside the stadium each week on Thursday Night Football.

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