EXCLUSIVE to F1B: SPEED TV – Behind the Scenes Part 2

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Part 2 of Speed TV – behind the Scenes

The Race:

After the tour I set up my location in the studio just behind Steve, David and Leigh.  It was a perfect vantage point to see what they saw and with the supplied headphones, I could hear the broadcast feed.  The flow of the entire team was well coordinated and impressive.  From interaction, dialogue handoffs and key additive statements to bathroom breaks during commercial integration (David opted for the three-stopper while Steve chose the aggressive one-stop strategy, earning him the gold medal while David flew home with the bronze).  The replay lay-ins were terrific, and Steve is incredibly quick with the telestrator.  Even coordinating dialogue via ISDN line to Will Buxton was efficient and conversational.
 
The time of the race was paramount and was always being considered in real-time with contingency plans.  The NASCAR crew was standing by to go live at Dover and the F1 broadcast had to be over in time for the handoff.  The length of the Safety Car periods were being added to the total time and numbers were being crunched by the minute.  As it happens, the team made the handoff and completed the F1 podium coverage during the Dover broadcast.  Satellite time is bought, crews are staged and ready and it’s not easy to push an event.  The team could not just say, “hey, we’re going long… deal with it.”  Advertising is bought and timed and there are a host of reasons why they cut away from the interviews and it wasn’t because they had more NASCAR to broadcast.

Speed 3
 
It is something to keep in mind when we complain about the NASCAR coverage on Speed or why the F1 coverage is cut short or the commercials seem egregiously long.  The insertion of a commercial is handled in Los Angeles and the producer makes the best call he can.  He isn’t doing this willy-nilly, folks.  I watched him first hand and saw how he calculated the time, determining when and where to place a commercial.  It is a best guess and can bite you back when you least expect it.  There is a logic and anticipation he used to out-think the live event… to anticipate how long the Safety Car period was, or when things would remain unchanged during live action.  It is a black art and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.  He is a professional at his craft and I was impressed by how he calculated the math of commercial insertion and anticipated what reality would do in those two minutes of commercials.
 
Will Buxton:

Let me just say this about Will Buxton: he works his tail off, folks.  He was running up and down the pit lane several times, negotiating interviews and handling denial very well (it’s fiercely parochial in F1 news circles and on the paddock).  I learned that his task is not an easy one.  Many on the F1 grid haven’t the foggiest clue who Speed TV is and even though the microphone flag says “Speed,” I now understand why Peter Windsor, and now, Will Buxton have to say, “Felipe, it’s Will Buxton live on Speed IN AMERICA”.  Most of the paddock is still euro-centric and resonate with the BBC microphone flag or those from their home countries, but Speed is often foreign to them.  Will is a good guy who works very hard at his craft and while we don’t often see that from the vantage point of our sofa bunker, trust me when I say that Will is doing a fantastic job of it given the mountains he must climb.
 
Leigh Diffey:

Leigh Diffey is a singular voice in sports car racing and you would be forgiven for thinking he is a one-trick pony in that regards.  You would be forgiven, but you would be wrong.  He is as knowledgeable about F1 as a man who’d been calling the entire season.  His delivery was animated and engaging, and he is a professional in every sense of the word.  Personally he was very charming and conversational.  After the race he engaged us, the guests, and discussed the race and asked if we had any questions.  I now know why I have always enjoyed listening to Leigh—it is his personable nature and brilliant demeanor that is almost tangible coming from your television speakers.  He exemplifies that Australian stereotype of being a great, laid-back bloke who navigates all situations with a collegial spirit.
 
David Hobbs:

David Hobbs has always seemed like the kind of guy you’d love to have a beer with or be around… and guess what?  He is!  He is a legend of the sport and as personable and unassuming as your neighborhood mail carrier.  He shook my hand and remembered me from our interview on F1B Downshift.  His is hilarious in person and terrific to be around.  There is a charisma and magnetism that he exudes; you find yourself leaning toward him when he’s close by.  I have to admit one other thing about David Hobbs: he is as sharp as a tack.  He doesn’t miss a thing and it honestly took me off guard.  His persona on air is that of a humorous, former driver and chuckle-smith cast as the plucky comic relief, but I must say he is incredibly sharp and deceptively intelligent about the sport and broadcasting.  I found myself wanting to join him on his flight home to discuss the race and seek his wisdom and keen insight (who knows, maybe I would have gotten a good deal on a Honda too).
 
Steve Matchett:

Speed 4

Now, it is no secret that I have been a big fan of Steve Matchett since his first book was published years ago.  I have always found Steve to be a real professional in words and prose and have enjoyed his work immensely.  I can say, without reserve, that he is a singular man… the real thing. Charming, patient, kind, engaging and without a shred of pretense, he is a keen study of anything that he happens to be engaged in, and his insight and attention to detail is nothing short of brilliant.  Steve is a master of the detail and watched the race unfold, on ten monitors, with all the cunning and calculative skill of the amazing engineer, author and broadcaster he is.  He takes his job very seriously and pours his heart and soul into every minute of the race.  He is a gracious host and terrific lunch partner.  I am humbled by his ability and galvanized by his most endearing quality… his soul.
 
Sean Kelly:

Some people are born for certain things and I am convinced that Sean was born to be a statistician.  There are few in the business that can equal his ability to see numbers, in chaos form, and craft contextual meaning in real-time.  Grace and I have often mentioned Sean on our podcasts and he was as genuine and nice as he has always been to us at F1B.  Sean isn’t just searching the Forix database, he has his own!  He manages numbers and stats like a particle accelerator in France creating a vortex of information.  I honestly mean it when I say that he sees stories in numbers.  They speak to him and he crafts stats and critical information from raw numerical data.  It is beyond impressive, it is freakishly genius.
 
After it was all over, I had a chance to sit down with Frank Wilson and Steve Matchett.  We discussed some of the nuts and bolts of the process as well as whatever else sprang to mind.  I think you will enjoy hearing from Steve and Frank, and it is a real treat to offer you this special edition F1B Downshift episode.
 
Steve, having been up since the darkest crevice of morning, still found time to join me for lunch afterwards.  That conversation was as wonderful as any I’ve had and will remain personal.  Suffice to say, it is an honor to have spent time breaking bread and discussing life with a man who exemplifies what is best in life, what is best in men and what is, for me, best about the American broadcast of Formula 1.
 
The Speed TV production of F1 is a phenomenal operation.  Their dedication to the sport is terrific and second to none.  There are limitations with commenting on a live feed from FOM but I was amazed at how close to real-time they were working.  Imagine that your every move, from a production stand point, is reactionary instead of proactively creating the show.  That is what it is to be the broadcaster of F1 in America.
 
Astoundingly, they were moving at a speed that was measured in fractions-of-seconds from the real-time feed and managing to fashion it into a full production with replays, live commentary and key statistics.  It is one thing to do this with your own camera crew and production oversight but imagine trying to do it to someone else’s cameras, production and replays.
 
We have all scoffed at times when commercial breaks miss on-track action or NASCAR encroaches on our cherished snob-sport of F1 or we think one of the commentary team isn’t up to snuff.  After visiting the production, I don’t care who you are or what you think you know… your criticisms are simply the bravery of being out of range.  You cannot control a world feed from the FOM and make a production like you can when you control the process (i.e. Monday Night Football).  Everything you do is in reaction mode, and not proactively creating the show you’d like to have.  The Speed TV crew has honed their production to fractions of seconds off of live TV and it is incredible to watch.
 
The Speed TV Formula 1 crew are terrific and what they do each race is an amazing feat by anyone’s measure. If you don’t believe me, then go and see for yourself… just don’t let Frank catch you wandering around the Dish Farm.

Thank you again to everyone at Speed TV who made this possible.

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