GREENSBORO, N.C. – Over the course of working nearly 40 years in network television, Noubar Allen Stone has relished setting the scene for sports-related events on major stages.
The senior creative director for ESPN’s Creative Services has enhanced the viewing experience for events ranging from FIFA’s World Cup to the Heisman Trophy and beyond. He’s also helped ESPN and ABC present conversations with various U.S. presidents for interviews involving sporting matters. This month, Stone – who worked at ABC from 1980 until joining ESPN in 1988 – helped create the look for ESPN’s The Undefeated’s unique student forum here at North Carolina A&T University with President Barack Obama. The program airs Tuesday (see sidebar).
What’s it been like to work with the White House on such a project?
It’s like “working in conjunction with the Heisman Trophy Foundation or something like that,” said Stone, who has worked with the Reagan and Clinton White Houses (twice) on various projects for ABC and ESPN. “They want to be involved. They want to see the creative [art], they want to know the layout, they want to know how many seats.”
He tells Front Row what went into helping create the look for The Undefeated’s conversation with President Obama on Tuesday.
Describe your job, briefly, in laymen’s terms. What are your primary responsibilities, especially on remote productions like this?
I work with Production and my colleagues on the creative side to determine the direction of the production design, then serve as the primary point of contact between them, Remote Operations, the venue, and the vendors working on the staging, lighting, and scenery. I also manage the schedule and budget for those aspects of the show.
What were the biggest challenges with The Undefeated Town Hall in Chicago in August and how do they compare to setting up the Obama Summit in Greensboro?
The biggest challenge for both is the limited planning time and that both locations were devoid of any broadcast or theatrical infrastructure to speak of, a YMCA gym in Chicago, a campus ballroom in Greensboro. That said, in Chicago you had a number of providers in the immediate area, in Greensboro, not so much. While the University has been great in lining up some local vendors for printing, carpet, and furniture, the staging and lighting are being trucked from some distance.
What’s the theme of this set’s look? What are you trying to capture and/or convey and why?
It’s very simple, just a neutral background, a circular riser, audience seating, and branding for The Undefeated, North Carolina A&T State University, and the Maya Angelou quote from which The Undefeated chose its name.
What are the major differences and similarities between creating a visual/on-air look for a townhall versus some of the key televised events (FIFA World Cup, UEFA EUROS, etc.) you have overseen?
With an event you are trying to take advantage of location. With a town hall you are confined to, well, a hall. The focus needs to be on the people on stage and those in the audience and the content of what’s being discussed.
What other programs involving the POTUS have you worked on?
Prior to joining ESPN, I produced and directed an interview with President Reagan and [former ABC commentator] Howard Cosell in the White House map room in 1984 in the wake of the Soviet Union’s boycott of the Los Angeles Olympics.
On the 50th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s debut [in Major League Baseball], [ESPN commentator] Chris Berman interviewed President Clinton in a private box in Shea Stadium. And in 1998, I believe, we had a town hall in a theatre in Houston with President Clinton and a host of panelists that included [Pro Football Hall Of Fame running back] Jim Brown. I got to meet Jim Brown on that one.