In Salute to Service, ESPN’s First Take Uses REMI Workflows To Broadcast From Five Active Military Bases

Live programming from the various bases will be hosted from New York with control rooms in Bristol

One of the cornerstones of ESPN’s America’s Heroes Veterans Week programming will be the network’s morning debate show First Take, which will dedicate its shows to veterans and active military personnel with live segments from five military bases in the U.S.

ESPN is using remote workflows to bring in live feeds from five bases (Naval Base San Diego [Navy], Camp Pendleton [Marines], Fort Irwin [Army], Vandenberg Air Force Base [Space Force], and Nellis Air Force Base [Air Force]) to a control room at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, CT, for shows that will be hosted from the First Take studio at the network’s Seaport Studios in New York City.

As part of its Salute to Service Week programming, ESPN was live from Camp Pendleton in California on Tuesday to celebrate the 245th birthday of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“Doing the show from the studio yet still having onsite audiences, interviews, and more from each base will allow us to create a week of meaningful shows while keeping everyone safe,” said ESPN Coordinating Producer Antoine Lewis in an official release this week.

To pull off the productions, ESPN will deploy a scaled-back crew and a small hybrid production truck at each military base, beaming feeds to Bristol via satellite. ESPN Associate Director, Remote Production Operations, Carlton Young noted that, for this kind of an onsite activation in the past, there would be 45-50 people — from on-air talent to behind-the-scenes crew — at the base to produce the shows. This year, due to COVID safety guidelines, only about 20 people will be onsite, with more of the production work being done at the control room in Bristol.

“Making television happen, quite honestly, is the easy part,” says Young, a former military man himself. “What is hard and different is making sure that not only are we following ESPN and Disney protocols and guidelines for COVID-19, but we’re making sure that we’re in lock step with the military as well. How we interact with them, maintain social distance while still having video and audio footage of them, placements of microphones and things of that nature.”

Young notes that anyone who is part of the onsite crew undergoes COVID-19 testing via an at-home DxTerity test before they even leave to drive to site. Additionally, there are resources on the base to support any issues, and crew members who need to stay onsite are able to respect quarantine by staying at a hotel located on the military base.

The week-long project will culminate in the largest of the five productions, from Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas. Among the gear deployed is a hybrid production uplink with three cameras, one of which will be mounted on a 24-ft. jib.

The onsite crew will be made up entirely of local production personnel and all sources — from both Las Vegas and New York City — will be transmitted individually by satellite and IP, respectively, to Bristol for integration. Senior Operations Manager Terri Dippolito has played a key role, overseeing the operational efforts for the whole week and putting extra TLC into the week’s finale on Friday.

The effort is a credit to ESPN’s commitment to honoring service members, First Take typically celebrates with live shows from a single military base on America’s Heroes Veterans Week, but COVID-19 has made that typical deployment of on-air talent and production resources impossible.

“Given the circumstances and the times, we didn’t retreat and say, Oh, we can’t do it,” notes Lewis. “We upped the stakes. We are trying something ambitious. That’s how important this is to us, and, hopefully, the viewers will feel the same way when they’re watching the show.”

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