Behind The Scenes

E:60 starts new season with profiles of Megatron, Eli, Penn State recruit

Front Row caught up with E:60 Executive Producer Andy Tennant prior to tonight’s launch of the 2012 11-week “Fall Flight” of ESPN’s award-winning news magazine show (7 p.m., ET, ESPN).

You’ve been prepping for the “Fall Flight” for several months — what’s the feeling of your E:60 team?
We are extremely excited about where we are with the series: The stories have never been more captivating, the storytelling never more powerful. Our staff spends countless hours putting the show together — researching, traveling, shooting, interviewing, editing. Our producers and reporters are completely invested in each character, every story, every production.

Andy Tennant

It’s been a busy off-season: E:60 won a National Sports Emmy and received seven nominations, and won two Edward R. Murrow Awards for Excellence in Journalism, among others. How do you feel about the recognition?
At a time most networks are cutting back, it is extraordinary that ESPN has such a commitment to long-form journalism and enterprise reporting. And it is terrific to see this commitment recognized. Obviously we are honored, and personally it is rewarding to see our staff honored for all its intelligent work.

What can we look forward to on tonight’s show?
We are more excited for this season premiere than any since our launch in October 2007. We teamed with ESPN The Magazine on a definitive profile of Detroit Lions superstar Calvin Johnson — “Megatron.” Jeremy Schaap’s provocative interview with two-time Olympic gold medalist Hope Solo, the most popular female soccer player on the planet, is a must-watch. Lisa Salters, a Penn State alum, tells the incredibly powerful story of Jamil Pollard, the first recruit to commit to Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky sex abuse scandal. And the finale tells the story of two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning’s commitment to a long-time family friend.

We get 11 straight weeks of E:60, the longest consecutive show run since 2008. What kind work goes in to produce this much award-winning content?
To be honest, it varies from story to story. We have turned around some stories/interviews in less than 24 hours. In August 2009, Schaap landed the first in-depth interview with Plaxico Burress after he accidentally shot himself at a NYC nightclub. An E:60 producer at the interview in Miami fed it back to Bristol, where a team of producers and editors worked overnight for the feature to make air the next day. Same with Rachel Nichols’ interview with Robert Griffin III before April’s NFL Draft. Then there are stories we work on for six, seven, eight months, or longer, such as our investigations into the phenomenon of “Corrective Rape” in South Africa, and our story on children playing cricket on the toxic grounds of the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India — the site of the worst industrial accident in world history.

Folks may not know your E:60 team contributes more to the company than E:60.
If you add up all the original E:60 episodes on ESPN, the re-packaged shows for ESPN2, ESPNU, ABC and ESPN International, and the Spanish language E:60 on Deportes, we were responsible for 882 hours of programming across ESPN networks in 2011. In addition, E:60 producers Heather Lombardo and Beein Gim led our team in the production of the Title IX: 40 Greatest Athletes initiative for espnW and SportsCenter, while senior producers Martin Khodabakhshian and Ben Houser oversaw the team responsible for the ESPYS’ “20 Greatest” Countdown. And, we remain incredibly excited about PROFILE which E:60 launched in April — 30-minute episodes showcasing documentary-style storytelling focusing on the biggest names in sports.

We’ll see a new look for the show opening production meeting tonight?
With the help and cooperation of our colleagues in marketing and research in New York, we had a spectacular new shooting space at the Armory on West 66th St., with 40-foot ceilings and a 10-foot Jumbotron. This allowed for more camera positions, added height and depth and a multitude of visual opportunities. It also happened to be hallowed television ground — the site of the studios where ABC filmed daytime soaps for generations. Luke and Laura were married on the exact spot where Schaap now feasts on dim sum from Shun Lee.

What’s ahead for the next 11 weeks?
Rob Gronkowski. Need I say more? Seriously, Coordinating Producer Michael Baltierra does an outstanding job overseeing E:60 story lineups. You can expect to see Matt Kemp, Justin Verlander, Victor Cruz, Justin Tuck, Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall, LeSean McCoy, Vernon Davis and Teddy Roosevelt – yes, that Teddy Roosevelt.

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