7 Chaotic Hours Behind The Scenes At NFL RedZone On 17 Sundays every fall, millions of people tune in to this cable channel, which airs for just seven hours a week and endeavors to show each score from as many as 12 simultaneous football games.
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7 Chaotic Hours Behind The Scenes At NFL RedZone

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7 Chaotic Hours Behind The Scenes At NFL RedZone

7 Chaotic Hours Behind The Scenes At NFL RedZone

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

Today's an exciting day for pro football fans. There are only three weeks left in the regular season, but there are tons of teams still in contention for the playoffs. If that's not exciting enough for you, maybe try NFL RedZone. For the uninitiated, the red zone is that area inside the 20-yard line where scoring happens most often, and NFL RedZone is all about the scoring.

For seven hours straight, every football Sunday, they show you every single score from every single game as it happens, which sometimes involves multiple games on screen at the same time. Sound crazy? We sent our producer Becky Sullivan to spend a day behind the scenes and see just how chaotic it can be.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: It's 7:15 a.m. Pacific time at the NFL Network offices in Culver City, here in the Los Angeles area. The sun's just risen. It's a little chilly outside. Inside, everyone's looking sleepy, dressed in hoodies, holding coffee. That is everyone except Scott Hanson. Hanson is the host of the NFL RedZone - boyish, blond, a big smile full of pearly whites. Right now, he is the very picture of vitality.

SCOTT HANSON: Well, see, I woke up at about 5 a.m., and I stayed up last night until about - I don't know - 11 or maybe close to midnight.

SULLIVAN: His energy lasts, unabated, all day, and it has to. Hosting RedZone sounds exhausting.

HANSON: Nine games will kick off at one o'clock Eastern. Four more games will kick off in the four o'clock Eastern hour. We show every touchdown from every game - no commercials. It is a roller coaster ride.

SULLIVAN: The morning meeting starts at 8 a.m. Hanson has this huge stack of papers packed with rosters and statistics and streaks and records.

UNIDENTIFED MAN #1: Jets and Vikings.

SULLIVAN: One by one, the production team goes through each of the 13 games, talking out potential story lines - players to watch, narratives to highlight - that kind of thing.

HANSON: So the Jets have attempted 45 passes that have gone 20 yards in the air - you know, deep shots, basically. They have six completions on those 45 attempts and eight interceptions.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

HANSON: The other team has caught it more than they have when they throw it 20 yards in the air.

SULLIVAN: Hanson and the crew are practiced at this by now. The NFL Network started RedZone just over five years ago, modeled after a similar show in DirecTV that's only available to their subscribers. Both channels have millions of viewers. When Scott Hanson was in the audition process for this job, he watched a few tapes of DirecTV's version. He's friends with their host.

HANSON: And I watched it, and I called him up. And I asked the embarrassing first question that everybody asks me - is, when do you get a bathroom break during the seven hours? (Laughter)

SULLIVAN: The answer - well, sometimes you don't get one. So right before the show's about to go on air, he's giving a quick tour of the studio to some visitors when his stage manager interrupts him.

HANSON: Up here, we'll have the scores of all nine games.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Scott, five minutes. You want to do the...

HANSON: I need to excuse myself for a moment because I get my last bathroom break of the day right now. I'll be right back.

SULLIVAN: It's actually kind of a shock to walk into the studio. It's painted a vivid, bright green. There's a silver podium in the middle, and that's it. On air, the rest of studio is computer-generated, even the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Twenty...

SULLIVAN: Except for Hanson and his stage manager, it's totally silent in here.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Come to V-O.

(SOUNDBITE OF COUGHING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Ten seconds...

SULLIVAN: And he's off.

HANSON: Four fingers in the air as the regular season hits its final quarter.

SULLIVAN: And RedZone is on the air.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "REDZONE")

HANSON: The end of the Steelers division title hopes.

SULLIVAN: Barely a minute goes by before the first touchdown of the day.

HANSON: Yep, pick six - first play of the game. Wow.

SULLIVAN: They weren't showing that game live, so the crew has to roll it back on a replay machine, get the transition effect ready, get the timing just right. And just 16 seconds later, it's on.

HANSON: Check out the first play from scrimmage in the Jets Vikings game.

SULLIVAN: And then it's back to silence in the studio. The chaos is the control room, just on the other side of two soundproof doors.

BRIAN NETTLES: We're going to update megatron's touchdown. Game three, update yellow.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Game three, no update.

SULLIVAN: As the producer Brian Nettles. He's making decisions about what to show these first few hours. It's very dark in here. The only light comes from the dozens - the dozens of TV monitors. There's one for each game, each replay, each graphic. I count 59, and that doesn't even include their computers.

NETTLES: OK, I need to get ready for 5-3 and then bring in Detroit.

SULLIVAN: The live games are on the numbered feeds. Then there are four replay banks named after colors - steal, bronze, yellow and green.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: Roll yellow, effect blue.

SULLIVAN: There's a director, an engineer and seven other guys just keeping an eye on the games, the replays, looking up statistics, double-checking the rules. If that sounds like a lot of things to balance, it is, and sometimes it comes crashing down.

NETTLES: Game two, update three.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: Let me see it again.

UNIDENTIFIED MEN: Whoa.

NETTLES: Going to green.

SULLIVAN: About an hour into the broadcast, one of the replay feeds started rewinding live on the air. But in a couple of seconds, they fixed it, and Scott Hanson doesn't bat an eyelash.

HANSON: I've got an update on the Browns and Colts game. Brian Hoyer on third and four, and...

SULLIVAN: And, you know, given the craziness of the control room, the nine games they're juggling, the constant switching, the fact that I only saw one mistake might be the most impressive thing of all. Seven exhausting hours later, there's just one thing left to do - make the signature 10-minute-long montage of all the days' touchdowns, one after another.

HANSON: And the catch is made by Benjamin for a Carolina touchdown - touchdown - touchdown.

SULLIVAN: And that's the allure of RedZone. If you'd been watching all day, you'd have seen all 64 of them already. Becky Sullivan, NPR News.

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