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XFL Telecasts On ESPN, ABC Present Open Playbook For Producer

As new football league kicks off this weekend, unique visual, audio access present a "blank canvas" for storyteller Cohen

ESPN XFL producer Mandy Cohen was six years old when she told her parents she wanted to produce the Super Bowl.

“My mom smiled,” Cohen recalled. “She said, ‘That’s my girl. Always dream that big!’”

And she has.

A 15-year ESPN veteran, Cohen is now dreaming about the endless possibilities in front of her team as they prepare to launch the XFL on ESPN this weekend. She’s producing the matchup between the St. Louis BattleHawks at Dallas Renegades (Sunday, 5 pm ET, ESPN); the Seattle Dragons visit the DC Defenders Saturday (2 p.m., ABC) to kick off the XFL’s 2020 season.

“The opportunities we have been afforded on this sport will allow us to take the viewer inside the game in a new way,” Cohen said.

With the increased audio and access the XFL is allowing its broadcast partners, it will be up to Cohen, fellow XFL producer Josh Hoffman and their teams to decide how and when to incorporate these new and exciting elements.

Stay live for reactions and add the audio to them? Interview the guy that just scored? Interview the quarterback? — Mandy Cohen on the in-the-moments access options the XFL offers a TV producer

“With college or NFL football you can get into certain patterns,” Cohen explains. “For instance, on a touchdown you would normally do something like live reaction shots, run a quick replay to confirm the score for the officials, extra point, roll out to break or do a telestration version of the touchdown. But on this sport we have so many other places we can go.

“Stay live for reactions and add the audio to them? Interview the guy that just scored? Interview the quarterback? Get to the try after to see if they are going for 1, 2 or 3. [As part of the XFL’s new rules, teams can try for 1, 2 or 3 extra points following a touchdown.] Open up the opposing head coach’s microphone to see what he is telling his team as they prepare to take the field? And don’t forget the replay of the touchdown!

“Josh had likened it to a menu at a restaurant,” Cohen adds. “While it’s tempting to order everything at once, you know you need to be selective to create that five-star meal.”

As Cohen continues to dream big about this new league, she encourages other women to do the same.

“Watching other women come up behind me at ESPN has been a great source of pride. They say, ‘You can’t be what you don’t see.’ So I’ll always be grateful ESPN had the vision to hire a female producer and hope that I have helped light the way in some fashion. It’s always amazing to look around the room and see other women. In fact, we have nine on our XFL crew alone.”

Cohen starts quarterbacking ESPN’s XFL coverage from Arlington, Texas, this Sunday. She’s relishing this opportunity.

“Starting a sport from scratch is so much fun. The blank canvas means you get to ask, ‘What if…’ about everything,” Cohen said. “[ESPN Senior Vice President, Production] Lee Fitting and [ESPN coordinating producer] Bill Bonnell have really set us up to be creative and take some risks to make a sport everyone loves even better. The League has been open to everything as well. When you add that all up, it’s going to make for a very unique and entertaining broadcast.”

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