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Cameras shadow football team

Claire Heininger | Friday, September 19, 2003

The “magic in the sound of their name” echoed all the way to Bristol, Conn. last year, sending the Notre Dame mystique resonating through ESPN headquarters and enticing network executives to select the Fighting Irish football team as their final choice to shadow during this year’s installment of the original reality series The Season.From Four Horsemen to seven Heismans to 11 national titles, “every sports fan is aware of the storied transition of Notre Dame football,” said Michael Antinoro, senior coordinating producer for ESPN Original Entertainment. “The history is so rich with great players, coaches and games that the team truly has a national following unlike any other school,” he said.To capture this history in the making, camera crews traveled to campus, filming not only games and practice sessions, but also the human perspectives that go beyond each Saturday’s final score. The passion and intensity synonymous with the University’s reputation were visible when the Irish guard chanted proudly at rehearsal, Dillon Hall residents entertained students at its annual pep rally and even when freshman linebacker Dwight Stephenson’s chemistry lab professor conducted experiments.”The bottom line is what will help tell the most compelling, interesting and accurate story,” Antinoro said. “To do a behind-the-scenes series like this, it’s important to capture as much on tape as you possibly can. There is probably a 50-1 ratio of footage shot that actually makes air.”As these massive amounts of footage are accumulated, it falls to The Season’s producers to make daily and weekly decisions about which scenes will make the best story for that week’s episode. On-site producers also work closely with network producers to consider which elements should be included to foreshadow stories for upcoming episodes.However, “it’s difficult to predict [what material will be chosen] because things are happening live,” Antinoro said. In the rankings-driven, media-consumed, fast-paced world of college football, a segment of footage that initially seems like a breaking development or an intriguing storyline can quickly become old news. To account for this unpredictability, The Season consistently directs between one and seven crews shooting simultaneously. Antinoro said that the personnel required to film a scene also varies with the type of footage being recorded. “It all depends on where the team is and if we’re spending time with one or several players or coaches, or if we’re shooting an actual game,” he said.Crews followed a standard schedule Thursday, attending and recording two classes, a practice, several interviews and the Celebrity Roast event at the Joyce Center. Despite some students’ concerns about The Season’s second episode moving to a different time slot on ESPN, the show’s filming is still scheduled to proceed for 10 more weeks, with production wrapping up in late November. The University and the Athletic Department have been very accommodating to ESPN’s needs, Antinoro said.”We discussed [from the beginning] what we wanted to do and the access we needed to get it done. The school was very forthright in what they were comfortable with and where we could work together,” he said.Antinoro also emphasized that a policy was put in place in case either side took issue with material presented on the show.”With every episode of The Season that we produce, we have a handshake agreement with the school – either side can pull out of the production if they are unhappy,” he said.Past installments of The Season have featured college teams, including Arizona and Florida State football and St. John’s basketball, as well as professional teams, including Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks and the National Hockey League’s Detroit Red Wings. The show has also focused on individual athletes, following complete regular seasons with both Allen Iverson and Cal Ripken, Jr.However, even after just two episodes, it is clear to ESPN that the Notre Dame version of The Season has drawn a unique fascination among viewers, Antinoro said. Based on the football program’s exceptional tradition, love-it-or-hate-it notoriety and consistently loyal national fan base, “we anticipated a very strong viewer appeal for this series – and we haven’t been disappointed.”