The happy cast of characters you see grinning out at you above is not, as you might suspect, the out-of-town company of Thai's My Boy. It's actually the operating management of the biggest knothole gang in the world, the one which pokes an electronic hole in the fence at the nation's top football game each week and lets 25 million freeloaders look in on the off chance they might buy, for the privilege, an electric razor, a jar of headache pills, a set of tires, some greaseless hair tonic or even a hearing aid.
For this is the TV Game of the Week crew which this Saturday will stab the Big Eye through the sun and smog of the Los Angeles Coliseum and give the public its current drama in two acts starring the Saturday matinee idols of the University of Southern California and UCLA, a 1956 version of the greatest show on earth replete with daring acrobatics, death-defying leaps, hairbreadth escapes, deft ballets, brassy music, crazy clowns and even an occasional wild animal or two. And it's brought to you 13 times a season by the National Broadcasting Company (and Zenith Radio, U.S. Rubber, Bristol-Myers, Sunbeam, Minneapolis-Honeywell, Liggett & Myers and the American Machine & Foundry Co.) at the cost of $3 million—all for free. As you will see from the portrait above, this extravaganza involves everyone from Latin professor to candy butcher and it is the most eye-catching, outsize phenomenon in sport history.
Quarterbacking this whole massive operation are the men huddled around the Eye itself—Announcer Lindsey Nelson, Producer Perry Smith and Director Harry Coyle. The eye of the public will be on the game, but its ears and attention will be on them and how well they do their job. It's part of broadcasting lore, apocryphal or not, that some years ago a rich and famous sportscaster was calling a Notre Dame game on the radio when a halfback, whom we shall call Christopher Marlowe, broke loose for a touchdown. Our myopic announcer thought it was another back whom we shall call Witlesslowski and the fellow was describing Witlesslowski's run with shrill terror: "He's on the 40, the 35, the 25—!" Suddenly he became aware that his spotter was giving him a frantic wave-off and uttering soundlessly, "Marlowe...Marlowe!" Our announcer never missed a syllable. Remember, this was radio. "And on the 20, Witlesslowski laterals the ball off to Marlowe and he goes in for a Notre Dame touchdown!" he shrieked triumphantly.
This quick thinking did not go unnoticed—or unresented—in the industry, and some weeks later our announcer was in Toots Shor's when he spotted fellow Announcer Ted Husing. "Ted," he purred, "I have a chance to do the Belmont Park races this fall. Can you give me some tips on horse race broadcasting?" Husing shook his head. "I'm sorry, old man," he said, "you can't lateral off a race horse."
The point is, you can't lateral off a football player any more, either. And no one is more aware of this than the dapper, unruffled narrator of the NBC-TV Game of the Week, Lindsey Nelson.
"The thing you've got to remember in TV-casting," notes Lindsey carefully, "is that the man at home has got a better seat than you have. He can see the play better and closer than you can. And there's nothing more irritating than to have someone tell you something happened that you know damn well didn't happen."
The reason the character on the receiving end of the microwave relay knows it didn't happen is that he, thanks to NBC, is seeing the game with five eyes, each of which has a depth of focus and angle of vision deeper and wiser than he could ever hope for. There may be as many as five separate cameras focused on the Game of the Week even though only one view at a time goes out to the 21-inch screens. The No. 1 camera sits at one anchor of the press box, usually the 20-yard line. The second and third are on the roof of the press box at the 50-yard line. The fourth is on the 20-yard line at the other end of the field. And a fifth—with an intricate 60-inch lens so penetrating it can show only microscopic action like the measurement for a first down—is lashed onto a portal at midfield a little above field level. Zoomar elements of varying intensity are affixed to each of the other cameras so as to be able to bring the action from closeup to panorama with a twist of the dial.
The director who decrees which of the five pictures shall go out on the air sits in the monitor truck outside the stadium in a pilot's chair where he can see all monitors simultaneously. Harry Coyle, an affable New Jersey Irishman who is a football buff first and a TV technician second, will then yell, "Take one!" or "Take five!" depending on which of the five scenes appeals to him as best dramatizing the action of the moment. Technical Director Jim Davis will then flip the switch which throws the cognitive image on the air. Out on the field or roof, the cameraman knows his picture is on the network by the red light which snaps on.
Up in the announcer's booth in the press box, facing the monitor which shows him what is going on the air, Lindsey Nelson has a responsibility to the audience in the truck as well as in the living rooms. "This is a kicking down," he will warn as a team faces fourth down with yards to go. In the truck, Coyle and Producer Perry Smith will take the hint and affix one camera on the kicker and another on the potential receiver.
"We used to keep cameras on the ball, following it up in the air on punts," explains Nelson. "But we find the audience gets disoriented. So now I tell the audience what kind of a kick it is, high, short, squib or shotgun. They see the kicker. Then they see the receiver.