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Truck delivers action

Production crew is on top of game

The TV timeout is one of the banes of a sports fan's life.

You're at a stadium, the game is rolling along . . . until everything just stops for 1 1/2-2 1/2 minutes.

Or you're at home watching a game. The action stops, and a series of commercials and promos for the network's upcoming programming blares at you. It's time to reach for the clicker or head for the fridge.

But there's one place -- besides your TiVo or DVR cable box -- where the break flies by: the TV production truck.

There, the pause is a valuable opportunity to take stock of the telecast's progress and to plan highlights packages and graphics to use in the coming minutes or during the postgame show.

At least that's the way things appeared to unfold during a visit to the FSN truck parked outside the FleetCenter Sunday night as producer Paul Lucey and director Jim Edmonds coordinated the high-definition telecast of the Celtics' 102-83 victory over the Seattle SuperSonics.

They'll be back in the same truck tonight, producing their fourth HD telecast as the Celtics play the Cleveland Cavaliers and LeBron James.

Sunday's visit to the truck was to check out a production in high definition. In truth, the operation doesn't look much, if at all, different from any other sports production. What it does look a lot like is NASA mission control, with folks busy in front of consoles.

Lucey and Edmonds, who've worked together for eight years on Celtics games, run a calm operation, with Edmonds calling the cuts from camera to camera as the action unfolds. Then he mixes in the replays, taped bits, and graphics, as Lucey calls for them while talking with broadcasters Mike Gorman, Tom Heinsohn, and Willie Maye, alerting them to what people in the truck are seeing, to upcoming breaks, and to breaking news, such as commissioner David Stern's announcement of the Pacers' and Pistons' suspensions just as Sunday night's Celtics game began.

Even a non-technical newspaper type can pick up some obvious cues:

* Even though the broadcast is in HD, most viewers still are seeing it in standard definition. Thus, there's an area on the widescreen HD monitor showing what picture is going out in standard definition. "They still have to think inside that box," said FSN general manager David Woodman.

* "Lip-synching" is encouraged. Because audio travels so much faster than the HD signal, the audio must be delayed by several seconds. To get everything in synch, a staff member sits in front of a camera and claps his hands slowly and talks until sound and picture are properly aligned.

* Delayed broadcasts? The HD signal, because it contains so much information, arrives at the viewer's TV set 3-4 seconds later than the standard signal. If you doubt it, try watching a game using picture-in-picture with the HD signal in one window and the standard transmission in the other.

* Things go wrong. The signal from a remotely operated camera on top of one of the backboards begins breaking up as soon as the game starts. FSN's Arthur "You Can Call Me Technical Manager, Transmission Coordinator, Or Engineer" Collins brings a fixed camera up to the FleetCenter's sixth level to replace the malfunctioning one with another view from "on high." And in his travels, he stops by one of the suites with HD service to make sure the signal is reaching the viewer, something that didn't happen until well into the first quarter of last Friday's game.

* TV does have some say in the tapoff time. "Don't let them tip before 6:10 [the scheduled start]," Lucey tells Sean Sullivan, the Celtics' manager of game operations. "It's OK with us if they tap off late, but we're in trouble if they start early," Lucey explains.

* Things are planned on the fly. "On the first whistle, we'll talk about the suspensions," Lucey tells Gorman as the truck crew prepares a graphic that will spell out the suspensions. "On the second whistle, we'll go to Willie to talk about security ramifications at the FleetCenter tonight."

* Last Friday's brawl in Detroit is a topic of conversation throughout the game. Everyone on the crew wants to know when the suspensions will take effect. (That was important to them because they were headed to Indianapolis for Celtics-Pacers Tuesday.)

* Small things mean a lot. Kat Stroscio, a senior at Old Rochester High, visits the truck before taping her "Fancaster" of the game introduction for the nightly "Heroes Among Us" award. She does fine. It may be a small thing, but it shows the working relationship between team and network as the station's promotion melds with the team's.

* Editing is the same, be it for a newspaper or a TV show. Doc Rivers does a three-minute pregame interview with Heinsohn, concentrating on the Pistons-Pacers brawl, the Celtics' fourth-quarter woes (at the time, the Celtics were 3-4, despite leading all seven games after three quarters), and the Sonics' penchant for taking -- and hitting -- 3-pointers. Lucey and editing guru "Coach" Ted Carey struggle to snip the tape down to just under two minutes. "Doc doesn't talk in coaching cliches, that's for sure," said Lucey of the team's media-savvy coach (and former national broadcaster).

* HD is a different look. "Everyone thinks high definition mostly will give you a wider view of the action," said FSN's Woodman, "but it also gives dramatic closeups, showing the sweat and pain of the game, and also brings the crowd into the broadcast by making people identifiable."

* Old-fashioned "tape" has a value. Not video tape; adhesive tape. Director Edmonds tapes the name of each of his cameramen next to the monitor for each camera. Producer Lucey does the same on the monitors for each of his replay editors. "Just a way of making sure we're talking about the same picture," he said.

* All replays are given a number and kept in a computer directory with a brief description of the player and play. Carey is able to meld a group together in a highlights package seemingly in moments.

It's just something to think about during commercial breaks.

Kicking it around
Globe columnist Bob Ryan joins host Tom Caron and guest analyst Tim Fox on tonight's "Sports Plus" (NESN, 6:30) to talk Patriots, looking back at Monday night's victory in Kansas City and ahead to Sunday's CBS national game with the Ravens (Channel 4, 4:15 p.m.) . . . The Patriots-Chiefs game did a 29.6 rating on Channel 5, a number that adjusts to a 31.3 with a 51 share when the portion of WMUR viewers in the Boston market (on Channel 9 in Manchester, N.H.) is added in . . . NBA fights are televised for free, but you'll have to pay ($44.95 on PPV) to see tomorrow night's Erik Morales-Marco Antonio Barrera bout, their third . . . NESN has a pair of Boston University hockey games, at Denver tonight at 9:30 and at Colorado College tomorrow at 9. You can make it a college hockey doubleheader tomorrow, with Boston College-Northeastern at 7 p.m. on CN8 . . . Channel 38 went to great lengths to revisit the "Miracle in Miami," sending Steve Burton to speak with Doug Flutie in San Diego and interviewing other participants in the 1984 BC-Miami game, including ex-BC receiver Gerard Phelan. The show airs tomorrow at 8 p.m. and again Sunday in the wee hours, after "Sports Final" and "Red Sox This Week." . . . Channel 5 has a traditional college football doubleheader today: Colorado-Nebraska at noon and Texas A&M-Texas at 3:30. Tomorrow, Channel 5 leads with BC-Syracuse at 1 p.m. and has Notre Dame against No. 1 Southern Cal at 8.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is 

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