Good chemistry, compelling content drive production team on 'Pac-12 Football Weekly'

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It’s 11:30 a.m. PT on Tuesday, August 26. Approximately 29 hours until the 2014 football season officially kicks off on Pac-12 Networks, and inside a standing room only Big Sur conference room at Pac-12 Studios, the storylines are flowing. From officials cracking down on coaches who venture outside the coach box on sidelines to the beginning of the College Football Playoff era, the past eight months void of actual college football have produced plenty of content for the 13-person production team for Pac-12 Football Weekly, who are busy prepping for the season two debut tonight at 7:00 p.m. PT.

For Senior Show Producer Jim Thornby, this past college football offseason has been unlike any other with storylines both on and off the field that certainly give plenty of material for Football Weekly’s season premiere.

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Senior show producer Jim Thornby gives instruction to the Pac-12 Football Weekly production team

“I definitely think, in terms of storylines, it’s been one of the most active college football off seasons we’ve seen, however when planning out the show, you definitely know you’re never going to be able to hit every topic,” said Thornby. “The good thing is, since we just wrapped up the training camp series that took the guys to each of the Pac-12 campuses, those shows served more of season previews. That allows us for the first episode of Football Weekly to focus more on the big picture topics than each team’s individual needs.”

While the jobs of Thornby and his production team range from graphics to segment production to research, the show’s centerpiece remains its trio of on-air personalities. For the debut show, host Mike Yam is joined by former USC assistant Yogi Roth and former UCLA head coach Rick Neuheisel; The trio is as dialed in as it comes to all 12 Pac-12 football programs as Yam and Neuheisel are fresh off a cross-conference tour shooting the Pac-12 Football Training Camp series. As a producer on Pac-12 Networks’ docu-series The Drive, Roth has spent the last several weeks embedded within UCLA football, as well as gathering footage from four other Pac-12 football training camps.

“The training camp tour has given us a really good perspective heading into this season,” said Yam. “The access and ability to be around the programs has really helped in our preparation and ability to advance the storylines.”

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The talent meeting for Pac-12 Football Weekly takes place in the Golden Gate conference room at Pac-12 Studios. Individuals from production, research and programming gather with Mike Yam, Rick Neuheisel and Yogi Roth to discuss the show's rundown. 

It’s now 1:15 p.m. PT – a little over five hours out from Pac-12 Football Weekly live airtime of 7:00 p.m. PT. After the show’s initial production team gathering, Thornby, Segment Producer Justin Nelson and Researcher Ryan McGrady reconvene with Yam, Neuheisel and Roth, plus representatives from digital and programming departments for the show’s talent meeting. Within the one-hour session, Thornby takes the team through his show rundown, getting first hand opinions from Roth and Neuheisel on various topics.

One such topic brought up by Thornby is for the analysts to share their parting thoughts from their training camp on each team.

“The sheer size of Stanford really stood out,” said Neuheisel.

“The cloud has lifted,” said Roth on USC. “They’re now having fun.”

For Neuheisel on UCLA, “defense is going to the strength of this team.”

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Neuheisel (right) makes a point to the group in the Football Weekly talent meeting

Thoughts like these are shared throughout the hour, which helps Thornby and his production team identify what supporting video footage to pull, statistics and notes to have available and key discussion topics that ultimately make the show stand apart from the analysis you might see on other networks.

After the talent meeting concludes, all parties go their separate ways to begin the process of building the portion of the show that they are responsible for. As the lead segment producer, Nelson spends the next 10 hours in the Studios’ bullpen, where he oversees the work of production assistants, segment producers and editors working to pull the footage, plays and graphics. The bullpen, a 1400-square foot area equipped with a plethora of televisions, editing stations and production panels is buzzing with activity and its Nelsons oversees it all, offering guidance and instruction to the team.

“As the segment producer for Football Weekly, I oversee all activity in the bullpen and give assignments to our crew throughout the day, from cutting sound pieces and bumps to b-roll and voice overs,” said Nelson. “We have a few more fresh faces on the Football Weekly production crew this year, so there is a lot more teaching and guidance involved in making sure everything gets done by show time.”

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Segment producer Justin Nelson provides instruction to a member of the production team in the bullpen.

While the bullpen buzzes away, Yam tapes the show’s featured interview with UCLA WR Jordan Payton before reuniting with Neuheisel in one of the Networks’ announcing booths to tape the first Pac-12 Football Podcast of the season for Unlike within Football Weekly, the duo is able to expand their conversation on a variety of topics within the 48-minute session.

Football Weekly is only a one-hour show, so between interviews and feature content that goes into the show, we don’t even get to touch 40-50% of the great topics and opinions shared in our talent meeting,” said Yam. “So the podcast is a good outlet for a lot of that great content to still be shared with fans.”

As show time inches closer, Yam, Neuheisel and Roth make final preparations, receiving stats from research and reviewing b-roll in the bullpen before getting dressed and a run through the make-up chair. Meanwhile, final technical checks are occurring within every aspect of the control room with the show director communicating with the stage crew blocking each segment.

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Yogi Roth (center) makes a point during Football Weekly's 'Under Review' segment while Rick Neuheisel (left) and Mike Yam (right) look on.

For all the day’s preparation, starting with the production meeting to the final ‘and clear,’ it was a welcome return for the Pac-12 Football Weekly production team and talent who all could not be happier to get back to football. And with all the storylines in the Pac-12 this season – from having the nation’s best quarterbacks to new coaches on the sideline and the debut of the College Football Playoff, the second season of Pac-12 Football Weekly is sure to be must-see television every Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. PT.

“With the College Football Playoff starting this year and the end of the BCS, there’s just so much more uncertainty with what the season can bring and how everything will pan out,” said Thornby. “Each week, just when you think you’ve figured out what something meant, there’s a whole new mystery to decipher.”