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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Preempting Sandy

     As hurricane Sandy barreled up the east coast the last weekend in October E:60 producer Heather Lombardo rushed to complete her story about a filly that was rescued from starvation and abuse. The filly grew up to be a racehorse, and her name, “Notinrwildestdremz”, was a metaphor for the storm that bore down on Connecticut.

     Lombardo was one of four E:60 producers who raced against time and nature. Sandy was due to hit Connecticut on Monday October 29. The next night E:60 was scheduled for its next-to-last show of the fall season.

    Normally last-minute edits are made the night before or the day of the show, but not this time. Fresh in memory was the “Snowtober” storm of the last weekend of October 2011. That freakish event drubbed central Connecticut with a record amount of wet snow and knocked out power to thousands of residents and ESPN workers.

     “Considering last year, we tried to be pre-emptive,” said executive producer Andy Tennant. “Last year was in the back of everybody’s mind.”

     Lombardo finished her edit at Bluefoot Entertainment in West Hartford on Friday evening. All it needed was the voice-over by Bill Nack, the venerable horserace writer, who lives near Arlington, Virginia. Nack was supposed to voice the piece at a studio near his home, but was prevented by a personal circumstance. Monday would have been do-able if not for the storm. So on Friday Lombardo got a hold of a voice-over recording device.

     “We decided to overnight one to Nack so he could track and e-mail the audio files without leaving his home,” recalled Lombardo.

     Nack gave the device a try on Sunday, but reported to Lombardo that the operating instructions “looked like they were for an F-16 fighter jet.”

     Fortunately, reporter Jeremy Schaap was familiar with the device, and agreed to call Nack Sunday evening, and walk him through the procedure. On Monday morning Nack used the device to voice the story.

     “As the winds started whipping on Monday I received the audio files via e-mail from Mr. Nack and we finished the piece that afternoon,” Lombardo recalled.

     Sunday morning found producer John Minton in Chicago completing his story about high school wrestling coach Mike Powell, who battles a rare disease called polymyositis. The edit was in Chicago because Powell coaches in a Chicago suburb, and the shooter/editors, Joel and Jesse Edwards, are based there.

     By that time Minton knew that Sandy would prevent Fed-Ex from delivering his tape to Bristol on time.

     “We looked into sending a high-res version through an FTP site,” recalled Minton. “But we were nervous about our edit house, Bluefoot, losing internet connection and not having the ability to download.”

     The solution was to set up a satellite feed - at 11 p.m. Monday - from another private production house in downtown Chicago.

     “We fed out the feature to the in-house feed to Bristol,” Minton said.

     Tuesday morning producer Vin Cannamela dubbed out a tape and brought it to Bluefoot, where it was digitized and dropped into the show’s timeline.

     Saturday and Sunday found producer Mike Loftus at Anderson Productions in Bristol at work on his story about MMA welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. Tennant and senior producer Ben Houser asked for changes on Sunday afternoon. Loftus realized he would need Monday morning to complete the edit, but before he went home he took a precaution.

     “In case Sandy did its worse we outputted a version that could air,” Loftus said. “We outputted a mix and split just in case. It was only four to five minutes long but it could have aired.”

     On Monday morning Loftus returned to the studio to complete the edit. Reporter Rachel Nichols re-voiced the new version, and Loftus drove it to Bluefoot late Monday afternoon, just in time to beat the storm.

     Monday morning found producer Mike Johns at Northern Lights in Bristol, completing his edit on 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. He had worked double shifts on Saturday and Sunday to beat the storm.

     As it turned out, Sandy walloped southern and coastal Connecticut, causing two deaths and knocking out power to 630,000 utility customers. Damage was moderate in the central part of the state, where the ESPN campus is. No E:60 personnel lost power in their homes, as was the case in Snowtober.

     Some felt an impact. Tennant’s parents left their home on the New Jersey coast to take refuge at Tennant’s condo in Hamden.

     Minton flew back into Hartford though he had flown out from LaGuardia. His car was at LaGuardia, and his family was in Comack, in central Long Island. The storm damaged their yard but left their house largely unscathed.

     “We counted our blessings - we were among the more fortunate,” Minton said.

      A week after the storm Tennant praised his staff.
     “Despite the stress and angst of the media reports, everybody kept their composure,” said Tennant. “Everybody was home safely when the storm came in late Monday afternoon. That’s how teamwork is supposed to work.”

     Eleven days after Sandy ESPN President John Skipper e-mailed employees:

     “As is now all too clear, the hurricane significantly impacted much of the U.S. East Coast. Many ESPNers and their families—especially those in the New York/New Jersey area— were personally impacted by the storm. To those colleagues I want to say that our thoughts remain with you. Please know that the ESPN HR and Outreach teams are here to help. I also want to thank everyone for your support of each other and your commitment to keeping ESPN business operations running smoothly in the face of significant challenges during and after the storm. You proved once again that ESPN has the best employees in the business.”

     posted by Steve Marantz on November 20, 2012

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