In a winter of endless storms, ESPN adjusts on the fly to deliver for fans

ESPN coordinating producer Bruce Bernstein at his makeshift "New Orleans East" office - his West Hartford, Conn. kitchen table.
ESPN coordinating producer Bruce Bernstein at his makeshift “New Orleans East” office – his West Hartford, Conn. kitchen table.

Need proof of just how trying this winter of snow and woe has been? Allow us to introduce you to ESPN coordinating producer Bruce Bernstein.

“Since I started traveling for ESPN back in 1982,” Bernstein said, “this is the first time I was unable to arrive at an event location.”

Bernstein, like many who planned on being in New Orleans for this weekend’s All-Star festivities, had his plans altered by what seems like the umpteenth winter storm of the season to hit the country.

“That picture above?” Bernstein said. “My kitchen, where I’m doing the ‘coordinating’ part of my job from. I had even changed to an earlier flight on Wednesday (from Thursday) knowing the forecast for (yesterday).”

But the domino effect from weather issues led to cancellation of that itinerary.

“With everything sold out or cancelled, there probably won’t be any flights available [today],” Bernstein said. “So I likely won’t make it all, which is tremendously frustrating because I have been working on our plans for New Orleans since early November.”

Fortunately, Bernstein’s ESPN teammates, including NBA Countdown coordinating producer Amina Hussein, are able to “pick up the baton” and coordinate All-Star coverage with SportsCenter.

“All of the planning has been done, and I am able to communicate with all of the various entities from the NBA, the individual teams and our ESPN crew,” Bersntein said. “So I am still fulfilling the ‘coordinating’ part of my title, even while I am working from home.”

The weather affected ESPN, its people and its networks in a multitude of ways – here is a sampling of those inconveniences (or convenient opportunities for trick shots):

• Needing to work out of the “snowdrums,” college basketball analyst Sean Farnham added to his trick shot resume while “preparing” for Minnesota at Wisconsin:

• ESPNU’s UNC-Asheville-Radford game was played before a “walk-in only” crowd to keep people off the roads. The walking Highlander fans made an impressive showing:

Also from the Radford game: The scheduled analyst to work with play-by-play man Roy Philpott was Cory Alexander. With Alexander stranded in Washington, D.C., Charlotte-based Adrian Branch was asked to fill
in, but he likewise was stranded.

Coordinating producer Chris Farrow called some of his contacts at Virginia Tech and it led him to Jeff Kleppin, a former sports information director, former Radford radio analyst, current AAU coach and current ESPN3 Virginia Tech basketball local announcer.

“It turns out Jeff lives in Radford and it was actually his birthday!” Farrow said.

Farrow also provided more insights into ESPN’s production adjustments during the past 24 to 48 hours:

• ESPNU’s 9 p.m. ET Thursday tipoff between Tennessee State at Belmont in Nashville was played as scheduled. But assigned analyst Branch was stranded in Charlotte due to a flight cancellation. Analyst Tim Welsh, who had worked on the ESPNU telecast of Central Florida at Memphis on Wednesday night, filled in for Branch in Nashville.

• After the Louisville at Temple game scheduled for Thursday was postponed until tonight (6 ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN), senior coordinating producer Jay Levy needed a director. Neil Gallow was scheduled to direct Saint Joseph’s at La Salle in Philadelphia (Saturday, 11 a.m. ET, ESPNU). Gallow now is also working the Louisville-Temple game tonight on ESPN2 and is attending part of the ESPNU set day at La Salle.

• The travel gods did smile on ESPN’s remote production crews when it was learned that Andy Bock, the original director for the La Salle game, will be able to fly in from the West Coast, Farrow said. Thus Gallow will now combine producing and directing duties on Saturday morning.

• The weather slowed United Parcel Service deliveries in Charlotte, Farrow said.

“We have to get commercial reels to five Big 12 Network and SEC TV Saturday games. Three of the five games have freelancers going to those games [who] live in Charlotte,” Farrow said.

“We are meeting producers at the airport today to hand carry reels that normally arrive to producers hotels on Fridays. One game at Kansas we will have to ship one UPS and one potentially with another delivery service as a back up. The final game is at South Carolina, where we have Charlotte ERT staffers attending.”

Ben Cafardo and David Scott contributed to this post

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