Legends Behind the Lens: Gene Mikell
The role of camera shader is unknown to the average sports fan; but few did it better - and for longer - than Gene Mikell
The story of American sports television is engrained in the history of this nation, rising on the achievements of countless incredible men and women who never once appeared on our screens. During this pause in live sports, SVG is proud to present a celebration of this great industry. Legends Behind the Lens is a look at how we got here seen through the people who willed it to be. Each weekday, we will share with you the story of a person whose impact on the sports-television industry is indelible.
Legends Behind the Lens is presented in association with the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame and the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund. In these trying times — with so many video-production professionals out of work — we hope that you will consider (if you are able) donating to the Sports Broadcasting Fund. Do so by visiting sportsbroadcastfund.org.
When Gene Mikell was inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame in the winter of 2018, he was an octogenarian; and a one who still spent a day or two a week working in a remote-production truck for Fox Sports.
“I work with a bunch of guys in their 40s and younger, and I try to keep up with them,” he says. “And, if they do something I don’t like, I’ll tell them.”
Born near Jacksonville, FL, Mikell spends much of his time on a farm far removed from the high-tech world of the video-control area he calls home on the road. Odds are, you don’t recognize his work, but you have seen it: he sets the course for the video-control department at Fox Sports. Video control includes the role of camera shader, making sure that all the cameras match and the images they provide to the production team are realistic in terms of color and lighting.
“If you don’t have pretty cameras, you don’t have a good show,” Mikell observes. “Because I worked on them, I know what is going on internally in the camera, and that helps an awful lot with color.”
His interest in technology began when his father sent him to a six-month technical school in Atlanta in 1956.
“I had no idea why he sent me there. I just figured he wanted me to be able to fix TVs,” he recalls. “But, when I got home, I registered with a job agency in Jacksonville and interviewed with a TV company. It was the local NBC affiliate, and I got the job on the spot, beginning as a mail boy.”
Mikell quickly took on a number of tasks, including moving studio props, camera operator, and even film editor and engineering. Working with cameras kicked off an interest that has served him well in his career: his work in camera shading and video control has put him at the top of his field.
“If you don’t have pretty cameras, you don’t have a good show.” – Gene Mikell
Working in Jacksonville gave Gene a unique opportunity: working on many rocket launches at Cape Canaveral, from Alan Shepard’s first until the days of the Shuttle launches. “NBC Network news would ask for me,” he recalls, “and I would do video for the space shots.”
He would spend 28 years at the NBC station and, in his late 40s, walked out and entered the freelance world.
“I didn’t know if I could make it or not,” he says, “but I had a desire go out and do something different.”
His work at NBC Network also gave him a chance to work on the sports side as a freelancer for Sports Broadcasting Hall of Famers like Frank Chirkinian and Don Ohlmeyer. Golf, tennis, college football, and Indy car were among the events he worked, and his efforts led him to Miami-based World Sports Vision Group, for which he installed on-board cameras for NASCAR races. In that role, he met Hall of Famers Fred Aldous, Jerry Steinberg, and Ed Goren, who were then at CBS Sports and would bring him on board to work at Fox Sports in 1994.
One of his favorite jobs has been working with WTVJ Miami. In 1987, Pope John Paul II was coming to visit, and Mikell was assigned the task of putting a camera on the “Pope Mobile.” The camera was a hit and even traveled with the Pope across the Atlantic to Europe, and he eventually saw shots from its use in Europe.
“That was a highlight,” he says. “There is no better feeling than knowing that everyone in the world would see it.”
Mikell’s wife, Sandra, died 15 years ago, but he has two daughters, one of whom lives with him on the farm, making sure everything is okay while he is on the road. And, on the road, he has the Fox Sports team and people like Aldous keeping an eye on him.
“Freddie and I work on different ends of the truck,” says Mikell, “but he doesn’t let a day go by without asking me if anything was wrong.”
Says Aldous, “I first met Gene in the mid ’80s working with CBS. The thing that most impressed me was how he handled any situation with ease, as well as his interaction with others. He has a great eye for detail and has mentored many video shaders throughout the years. And he is, by far, the nicest man in television.”