Behind The ScenesTennis

Take a look at him now: Phil Collins headlines at US Open and throughout tournament for ESPN

The production group: (l-r) Amanda Braunlich, Steve Lawrence, Julie McGlone, Sammy Silver. (Julie McGlone/ESPN)
The production group: (l-r) Amanda Braunlich, Steve Lawrence, Julie McGlone, Sammy Silver. (Julie McGlone/ESPN)

NEW YORK – There will definitely be something special “In the Air Tonight” when music legend Phil Collins takes to the stage for Opening Night at the US Open on ESPN2.

In fact, tennis fans will be “Dancing into the Light” for two weeks as his music will be prominent throughout the network’s coverage of the event.

The idea was born with ESPN Vice President, Production Jamie Reynolds. “In our planning, we realized the perfect harmony of weaving the USTA’s marketing campaign – using words that have “In” such as Incredible, Indescribable and Inspiring, to emphasize matches could be INdoors, thanks to the new retractable roof on Arthur Ashe Stadium – and Collins’ iconic ‘In the Air Tonight.’”

Seeking to kick off Collins’ role as the branding identity of the 130 hours of television, Reynolds facilitated Collins’ involvement Opening Night.

Viewers will hear a number of Collins’ songs, and last Thursday an ESPN crew filmed him at the National Tennis Center “singing” (aka, lip-synching) three of them, “showing off the newly enhanced venue while tying Collins to the event,” said coordinating producer, Julie McGlone:

  • “Take Me Home” on a park bench near the statue of Arthur Ashe in front of the stadium that bears his name.
  • “In the Air Tonight” in the Ashe tunnel the players walk from the locker room to the court from.
  • “Dancing into the Light” near the famous Unisphere from the 1964 Worlds Fair (with 15 actors).

Collins also spent part of Sunday in ESPN’s “portrait studio” where highly stylized matchup “bumps” and “teases” allow players to show their personality.

Everyone involved had nothing but the nicest comments about working with the man who has won an Oscar (for “You’ll Be in My Heart” from the Disney film Tarzan) and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with Genesis).

“A gentleman,” said producer Steve Lawrence, a Collins fan going back to attending Genesis concerts in high school.

“He was awesome,” added McGlone. “He hasn’t lost his passion. He was easy to work with and part of the creative conversation all day.”

Monday night, Collins will perform a handful of songs, some that are part of his forthcoming album, “The Singles.”

Collins also will be joined by “Hamilton” star and Tony Award winner Leslie Odom, Jr. – who perfomed at ESPN’s Upfront this spring – for a duet. The Broadway star, a native of Queens, N.Y., will sing the national anthem.

Long removed from his days as one of the most respected drummers in popular music thanks to back issues, Collins did recreate his old days with ESPN.

“We got him to do some ‘air drumming’,” Lawrence said, “which was more than cool, it was truly special. Because of his surgeries, we have not seen him play drums for many years.”

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