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Journalism Showcase: Production Notes from E60’s ‘Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story’

Explore some of what went into making E60’s latest episode.

Tonight is the debut of the ESPN E60 special “Imperfect: The Roy Halladay Story,” which airs at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

The one-hour program, reported by John Barr and co-produced by Mike Farrell and Brian Rivera, explores the Hall of Fame pitcher’s life, career and mysterious death in 2017, revealing there was another side to him: a deeply imperfect side that the public never saw, including a years-long battle with mental health issues and addiction. Barr also wrote a profile of Halladay for ESPN.com.

In the course of every reporting feature, there are hundreds of stories that never make the final product. Front Row asked Barr, Farrell and Rivera to offer some nuggets from their nine-month project on Halladay, an avid flying enthusiast.


BARR: “I STILL HAVE MY TICKET STUB FROM THE 1985 GAME  when the Blue Jays finally won the American League East for the first time in that horrible excuse for a ballpark called Exhibition Stadium. I was also there in 1993, ‘high-fiving’ my fellow Torontonians on Yonge Street when the Jays won their second consecutive World Series. What’s unfortunate is that Roy Halladay never got to experience the postseason as a Blue Jays player. ”

FARRELL:  “WHEN I WAS KID GROWING UP IN TORONTO,  we would look at the schedule and cross-reference it with the Blue Jays’ pitching rotation so we could specifically buy tickets to home games when Halladay was pitching. We wanted to see him; he was dominant and fun to watch.”


FARRELL:  “ROY’S FATHER HAD A BOX FULL OF VHS TAPES  from his son’s childhood and no way to view them. We knew this footage would be crucial to the documentary so I actually found an old (functioning) VHS player in the E60 office and shipped it to Denver, so he could look at the tapes and provide us with the relevant material. Can’t say I’ve ever done that before, but it worked!”


RIVERA:  “TO OUR GREAT SURPRISE, WE FOUND FOOTAGE OF A STORY  that has been told informally and in print many, many times- but now was living and breathing in front of us, in vivid detail. Roy practicing pitching in his parent’s basement. As filmmakers there’s no substitute for the something like this when trying to build an intimate connection between Roy and our viewers. It’s the kind of discovery you dream of.”


BARR:  “I WAS THERE, WORKING THE GAME FOR ESPN, DURING HALLADAY’S OCTOBER 2010 POSTSEASON NO-HITTER  [for the Phillies] versus the Reds. It’s one of the highlights of my time at ESPN. I’ve told the story many times of how Roy spoke on the phone with my then seven-year-old son, Jack, after that historic game. My starting point for this story was that memory of Roy so, it was hard to hear how much he struggled away from the game.”


John Barr and Roy “Big Roy” Halladay visit a hangar. (Brian Rivera/ESPN)

BARR: “IT WAS DIFFICULT TO ASK  Roy’s father questions about [his son’s] final flight. An experienced pilot himself with nearly 25,000 hours, Big Roy taught his son how to fly so, understandably, he has conflicted emotions about that part of his son’s life.”


FARRELL:  “HOME VIDEO AND PERSONAL PHOTOS ARE ALWAYS THE BEST WAY  to convey to the viewer what that person was like. Especially given the focus of our story, when there is so much archival baseball footage of Roy, it was paramount for us to secure everyday family photos to provide a more balanced portrait of who he was.”


Reporter John Barr (standing, left) and co-director Brian Rivera (seated, left) visit with officials from the Pasco County (Fla.) Sheriff’s Department. (Brian Rivera/ESPN)

EDITOR’S NOTE: READ JOHN BARR’S PROFILE OF HALLADAY on ESPN.com.

SC FEATURED

Since suffering his first panic attack during a game in November 2017, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love’s life has been transformed. He has assumed the mantle as the face of mental health awareness, not just for the NBA but across numerous sports, educational, and cultural platforms. Love is the subject of “Moving Forward,” Sunday’s “SC Featured” segment on SportsCenter. – Andy Hall

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