In the age of social distancing, ESPN’s Features Unit took a different approach with the production of “Heroes,” a Mother’s Day piece that debuted Sunday as the “SC Featured” segment on SportsCenter.
In the 10-minute piece, three medical professionals – and mothers – on the front lines in New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic are featured. They were surprised to meet their sports heroes via video chat while they were interviewed for the feature.
Eli Manning, Kyle Lowry, Roger Federer, and Derek Jeter were the athletes who greeted them.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) May 10, 2020
Jose Morales, senior coordinating producer for ESPN Features, said that ESPN’s Talent Producers found the three women featured in the piece in combination with the production crew making its inquiries. Senior managing producer Ben Webber helped direct the project.
“Luis Aldea and Zac Budman, both producers on the project, pre-interviewed the women for background information and asked how their lives were being impacted by COVID-19,” Morales said. “They also dug into their athletic backgrounds and sports fandom.”
As shown in the feature, two of the women were college athletes. Dr. Melissa Leber, who played college softball at Brandeis University, was surprised to receive a greeting from Jeter, an athlete who had inspired her during her playing days:
Dr. Melissa Leber is a huge Derek Jeter fan.
The Captain surprised Dr. Leber to wish her a Happy #MothersDay and to thank her for the work on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. ❤️
— MLB (@MLB) May 10, 2020
Morales said that editors on the project, Katelin Stevens, Justin Belcher and Adam Schaub, did all of their work from their homes.
ESPN worked with Astoria, N.Y., based HSC.tv to shoot video around New York City for the feature. A contactless studio was built that allowed the three interview subjects to enter, sit in front of a camera, and be interviewed virtually by reporter Tom Rinaldi. Cameras were operated from a different floor of the building. It was in this setting that the three women also saw their sports heroes on the screen.
“Heroes” debuted in the 8 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday and re-aired in other editions. Shortened editions featuring each woman and her sports hero appeared on ESPN.com and other ESPN digital channels.