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Executive Voice: How First Take Honors Veterans Week In A Virtual Format

Coordinating producer Antoine Lewis explains how the show will salute the military despite challenges presented by COVID-19

(ESPN)

Editor’s Note: ESPN’s morning debate show First Take, featuring Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and host Molly Qerim Rose, will dedicate a week of Salute to Service shows to honor veterans and active military as part of ESPN’s America’s Heroes Veterans Week initiative. Each show will include a live audience of military service members and special features from a different base. Coordinating Producer Antoine Lewis explains all that went into planning the week.

The idea originated back in the spring when we were looking ahead to what remote events we might want to do and how we would do those events in the age of COVID-19 while keeping everyone safe. High on our list was, how can we honor Veterans Day in a virtual format?

Instead of having everybody converge upon one site, it’s a situation where we are relying heavily on other people to be our eyes and ears on location. We really worked closely with each base for executing our ideas. We infused it with what we thought would make good television. – Antoine Lewis, First Take coordinating producer

We wanted to continue the First Take and ESPN tradition. Despite the fact that it might look different, we wanted to figure out a way to honor the work of the American military and the service members this entire week.

The plan was to do even more in a virtual setting than we would normally do. With that in mind, we looked geographically, given the travel parameters that we had to work with, at what made sense for five bases in five days, and that’s how we chose our different branches and bases.

As with all remote productions, this is a massive team effort. Instead of having everybody converge upon one site, it’s a situation where we are relying heavily on other people to be our eyes and ears on location. We really worked closely with each base for executing our ideas. We infused it with what we thought would make good television. We also have a small crew from Remote Operations that will be driving from base to base each day to set up everything and handle the on-site logistics this week. We have communication that is spanning from the set in New York to producers in Bristol to operational teams and directors in Bristol to the small team of people on site.

There are a lot of moving pieces, and many people deserve the recognition for helping pull this week together. The original idea came about with Justine DeLuco (Director, Events & Marketing) and Elizabeth Hembekides (Senior Production Coordinator). They’ve been instrumental in setting up the departments across ESPN and communicating with the crews traveling on site. Dominique Collins (Associate Producer) has been our bridge between the content plans and making sure that we can get things to the bases to integrate within the shows. Chris Rouskas (Supervising Director) and Kurt Ackerman (Director) figured out how this is going to look on the air and how we are going to bring all these elements together. Terri Dippolito (Senior Operations Manager) was instrumental, along with Carlton Young (Associate Director, Remote Production Operations), in trying to figure out what we would need on-site at the base to pull this off and make this look good.

We’re looking forward to the challenge of delivering the same quality of a big-time First Take remote and still giving the audience a show that honors the military, but just with the set and Stephen A. Smith, Max Kellerman, and Molly Qerim Rose in New York. In the end, it is all about finding ways to continue the mission of serving sports fans, even with the parameters changing on us. We can’t waiver from that mission; we just have to find new ways.

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