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ESPN’s Features Unit seeks to continue its Emmy-winning ways

Editor’s Note: ESPN received 41 Sports Emmy Award nominations for 2012 across its platforms (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN 3D, ABC, ESPNU, ESPNEWS and Grantland.com), led by five nods for E:60 (a total of 29 in five years), four each for Outside the Lines and ESPN Films including work by the Features Unit, and the first three ever for Grantland.com. The 34th annual Sports Emmy Awards will be held tomorrow night in Manhattan.

“And the Emmy goes to. . . ”

Ten times since ESPN’s Features Unit — a group within the Cross Platform Newsgathering Unit — was formed in 2002, the rest of that sentence ended with a product of their hard work. In fact, with 10 more possible winners in the awards to be announced Tuesday night in New York, the group has notched 50 nominations in 11 years. That’s not a bad batting average.

The cited work isn’t only the features, per se, but is for submissions in the Writing category, plus Edited Special, Journalism, Documentary, Art Design, Editing and Camerawork.

The group produces everything from short features to one-hour programs, such as the nominated documentary 26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story aired under the ESPN Films banner.

“No other network rivals our overall quality,” said Senior Coordinating Producer Victor Vitarelli, who oversees the Features Unit. “But the word I keep coming back to is compassion. Our people have the unique ability to go out and bring a story to life.

“They spend a day, maybe two, with people who open up their deepest, darkest secrets and innermost feelings,” he said. “It’s amazing, but they quickly build relationships with people in the field because of their understanding, empathy and compassion for the person and the topic.”

The group isn’t only about quality, but quantity, too. They produced 500 features in 2012 that appeared on SportsCenter, Outside the Lines, College GameDay and other shows. The really hard part of their job is choosing which will be submitted for Emmy consideration; there are limits in most categories.

“Each member of the management team comes to a meeting with their own list of favorites,” Vitarelli said. “What follows is — shall we say — some healthy discussion. At the end of the day, it often comes down to a gut feeling. Which story will resonate best with the judges?

“Awards are nice, but they are not on anyone’s mind as they go about their job,” he said. “That said, I’m hoping there will be some patting of backs on Tuesday night.”

The ESPN Features Unit’s 10 Sports Emmy Nominations for the 34th annual ceremony

Edited Special Outside the Lines – Believe
Sports Documentary 26 Years: The Dewey Bozella Story
Short Feature College GameDay Fist Bump: A Brotherly Bond*
SportsCenter: Kick of Hope
SportsCenter: Run with Me
Camerawork Outside the Lines – Breaking the Silence
Editing Outside the Lines – Breaking the Silence
Prod.Design/Art Direction Outside the Lines – Defiance: The Story of FC Start
New Approaches: Short Format Sport Science
Graphic Design Sport Science

*A video excerpt of this College GameDay feature regarding Wake Forest assistant football coach Tom Elrod and his family is seen at the top of this post. Here is the full piece.

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