For the past three years, the most-watched show in primetime has been NBC’s Sunday Night Football, which is coming off another strong season averaging over 21 million viewers in 2014, setting it up to remain No. 1 yet again.
While much of that credit goes to the insatiable appetite for football, many media watchers cite NBC’s stellar game coverage, a quality that can be timed back to the day ten years ago, when former NBC Sports head Dick Ebersol poached producer Fred Gaudelli from ESPN.
“There is nobody like him in television and likely never will be again,” says SNF booth analyst Chris Collinsworth.
Top of His Game
Gaudelli will tell you that SNF has risen to the top because, like most great teams, he and his staff are never satisfied. “There isn’t anything we’ve done that can’t be improved upon,” he says. “Everybody shares that belief.”
Being the top show on TV means more than just football fans are watching, a truth that isn’t lost on Gaudelli. “You want to make sure that while you’re not going to talk down to the football fans, you’re not speaking a language that only the coaching profession can understand,” he says, adding that a lot the SNF broadcasts focus on the personalities and the stories. “We can do X’s and O’s, but that’s not why we became the No. 1 show.”
And like a good quarterback, the tireless Guadelli leads by example.
“There isn’t one part of our broadcast that doesn’t have Fred’s direct involvement,” says Collinsworth. “I’m not sure he ever sleeps.”
Gaudelli is now also set to helm his fifth career Super Bowl as NBC gets the honors next month at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
The TV pro is well versed in the hoopla that surrounds the event, and believes his philosophy has not changed much since his first go-round—Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003. To Gaudelli, it’s all about prep, using the right equipment for the right reasons, and remembering that despite the hype, it’s still about the play and the history of the game.
“We really try to keep it simple,” he says. “At the end of the day you’re going to be judged on how you cover the game, but you want to make it feel special.”
In Arizona, Gaudelli will utilize new 4K technology. He says NBC is planning on having as many as six 4K cameras that will be positioned in areas such as the goal line and down both sidelines. “We want it to look like the spectacle that the Super Bowl is.”
Calling Career Audibles
While Gaudelli has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in the production truck, he originally envisioned himself carrying the ball. “I always wanted to be a player,” he remembers. But like many who aren’t paid to play sports for a living, he gave up that dream during his teen years, instead focusing on becoming a broadcaster; that dream too was dashed: “I realized that I just didn’t have a great voice,” he says.
But while interning at the former Metro- Media Channel 5 in New York during college, he found his true calling, doing PA work on Sports Extra. “I thought this could be a better road for me,” he says.
But Gaudelli’s first real break came in that most auspicious of spots: the ESPN mailroom. He was working at a local radio station in New Rochelle, N.Y. shortly after graduation from Long Island University’s C.W. Post campus in 1982; the station’s owner—who happened to be friends with an executive at ESPN—set up an interview. Gaudelli eventually vaulted from the mailroom to remote production as an entrylevel PA, remaining, and rising, at ESPN until 2001, gaining invaluable experience through a variety of positions, most notably producing ESPN’s Sunday Night Football telecasts for 10 years. Following a move to ABC to helm Monday Night Football until the franchise moved to ESPN, Gaudelli was hired by NBC when the network regained NFL rights beginning in 2006.
Spending multiple years with two sports powerhouses in ESPN and NBC afforded Gaudelli the opportunity to work under some of TV’s best sports executives, with NBC’s Dick Ebersol and ESPN’s Bill Fitts standing out.
“He got everything done through relationships,” Gaudelli says of Ebersol; Gaudelli also appreciated the legendary exec’s hands-off approach. “When he hired me, he really let me do my job.”
And Fitts gave Guardelli a treasured piece of advice. He remembers Fitts telling him to “throw out every note from any previous show,” so he could start every new telecast with a blank slate. He plans to do just that next month in Arizona.
And after all the confetti’s done flying? Gaudelli heads into his own offseason, where he hopes to catch up on all the things he missed over the past five months. “I like to see all the movies I missed from August-February.”