By Richard Deitsch
February 02, 2012

When kickoff comes to Lucas Oil Stadium this Sunday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time, Fred Gaudelli and Drew Esocoff will be together as always, sitting 23 inches apart inside an NBC production truck below the stadium. The duo -- Gaudelli is the producer for the Super Bowl and Esocoff will direct the game -- has been focused on Super Bowl XLVI for months.

In August, Gaudelli convened his 15-person production crew in New York City for a week-long Super Bowl information session at NBC's Rockefeller Center studios.

Inside a conference room with HD large-screen televisions, the group viewed the three previous Super Bowl broadcasts from start to finish, dissecting how to handle specific game scenarios and what elements worked best for both casual and hard-core football fans. "The week was productive in that we were able to see big event television in a low stress environment, and it left us plenty of time to digest it," says Esocoff, who will direct his fourth Super Bowl. "Every aspect [of the broadcast] could be evaluated and thought about, with the hopes of making it better."

How will NBC cover the Super Bowl on Sunday? Here's the breakdown:

The Super Bowl pregame show is always a delicate dance between entertaining the casual football fan who watches a game once or twice a year and not insulting the NFL die-hard. Sometimes the mix becomes toxic. Last year the New York Times described Fox's celebrity-saturated effort thusly: "There have been so many overlong, silly, banal, poorly conceived Super Bowl pregame shows that only one title can describe the drivel perpetrated by Fox on Sunday: Worst Damn Four-and-a-Half-Hour Super Bowl Show Ever."

Asked how NBC's pregame show will find the line between football and entertainment spectacle, pregame host Bob Costas said, "The first Super Bowl pregame show I did was Bears-Patriots in January 1986 and that was a two-hour pregame show and we thought it was very long. Now this has expanded to six hours, and, by definition, there is some excess no matter how you do it. There has to be a little tongue in cheek, and there has to be a little winking at the audience that some of this stuff is not everybody's cup of tea. The entire six hours will not all be, from my perspective, a 10 out of 10 in terms of what I will be interested in. But some of it may be to someone else. You try to do as professional a job as you can."

Costas will open the six hours of pregame coverage at noon with a live report from Georgia Street in downtown Indianapolis. The show will eventually make its way to more football-centric content, especially after 4 p.m. Costas will interview Patriots quarterback Tom Brady during the pregame, one of many sit-down interviews NBC has scheduled. That list includes studio host Dan Patrick interviewing Giants quarterback Eli Manning, studio analyst Tony Dungy sitting down with Giants coach Tom Coughlin and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz, and game announcer Al Michaels interviewing Patriots owner Robert Kraft.

NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood, the executive in charge of the pregame, said the pregame show will attempt to capitalize on studio analyst Rodney Harrison's relationship with the Patriots. Segments are planned featuring Harrison, a former All-Pro safety for New England, interviewing Patriots coach Bill Belichick, and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork and his wife, Bianca. Harrison will also be featured in a segment with Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, as the two line up against one another in a simulated pass play.

Other pregame features include NBC visiting the hometowns of five of Sunday's featured players -- Manning and defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants, and Brady, Hernandez and Wes Welker of the Patriots -- and interviews with former coaches, teachers and neighborhood friends who influenced the lives of those players. (Flood said the latter piece will include the person who caught Brady's first pass as a high school football player, which sounds like a sweet touch).

NBC will also re-examine David Tyree's famous catch against the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, and (no surprise) Tyree will appear on the pregame set to talk with Harrison (one of the defenders on the play). There are also additional features planned on the city of Indianapolis, Giants linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka, who grew up in Indianapolis and whose grandfather, Benedicto Kiwanuka, was the first prime minister of Uganda, and former Saints special teams standout Steve Gleason, who was diagnosed with ALS in 2011.

Earlier this week, NBC announced that Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward will serve as guest analysts during the pregame.

The show's non-football features include TODAY anchor Matt Lauer interviewing President Barack Obama from The White House, and a Costas interview with Madonna, who will perform at halftime. In what has terrific train wreck possibilities, singer Nick Cannon hosts NBC's pregame red carpet coverage featuring actors and actresses engaging in banter and self-promotion. Bravo's Top Chef, an NBC property, will also be highlighted with Dungy and Harrison judging a tailgating food contest. "I think we have a good mix," promised Flood. "And we'll get more and more football as we get later in the show."

What should viewers expect for the game telecast? Gaudelli, who will produce his fourth Super Bowl, says NBC's most important responsibility is that the broadcast reflect the magnitude of the event. "We must have every play that could be termed as controversial nailed down with irrefutable evidence," Gaudelli said. "And I'd also say that Al and Cris (analyst Cris Collinsworth), as they are most Sunday nights, are ahead of the curve in terms of keeping the audience informed. Hopefully, the game looks like a Sunday Night Football game except when you need those little accents to take a show to a different level."

Esocoff said he wants defining looks of every critical play. He reminds himself to anticipate the spectacular, and wants his camera people in place if something happens, especially on the sidelines. "It would be very easy for a group of camera guys to get caught up in a moment and not be cognizant of whether a player had possession, and had his feet in bounds," Esocoff said. "And keep in mind the sideline and end zones are more crowded at a Super Bowl. You have to be really careful because the environment is unforgiving."

Gaudelli said the event being streamed live to online viewers and mobile phones will have no impact on the television broadcast. The social media elements that Sunday Night Football employs weekly remain, including sideline reporter Michelle Tafoya tweeting during the game, and information analyst Mike Florio chatting with viewers on the company's website. Gaudelli said he will have staffers monitoring the Twitter accounts of the more popular players in the NFL, but someone would have to tweet out "something extremely relevant" to make it to air.

Unlike previous broadcasts on other networks, NBC will not do a taped package to introduce the players. Instead, the lineup introductions (the ones where players tell you the college they played at) will be aired as the players leave the locker room for the tunnel.

"During the summer, we decided why don't we roll our lineup introductions while the team is leaving the locker room and walking to the face of the tunnel," Gaudelli said. "So we'll have the offense and defense intros -- which will take up the left half of the screen -- and on the right half of the screen you will see the team leaving the locker room and making its way down the corridor and into the tunnel. The other reason we're doing this is fewer teams are huddling -- though the Patriots are one of them -- and now we can start the game and not have to pause between plays."

NBC had singer Faith Hill shoot a new opener for the game and there will also be a change in the display graphics. As far as crowd shots, the league will tell NBC where invited celebrities are sitting, so Gaudelli and Esocoff will have the option to highlight the boldfaced names in the crowd. Asked how much will Tim Tebow be part of the Super Bowl, Gaudelli laughed. "I have not figured out a way to work him in," he said.

It's likely the game will be the most-watched broadcast in the history of the U.S. Last year's Super Bowl on Fox drew a record 111 million average viewers, and this year's game features a team from the nation's biggest media market (the Giants), the game's most famous quarterback (Tom Brady) and a rematch of a terrific Super Bowl just four years ago. The game's going to do a massive number if it's close heading into the fourth quarter. "We have the opportunity to exceed," said NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus, "what has been done the last two years for this game."

(We asked some key NBC staffers for their thoughts on some additional Super Bowl television topics.) What is your philosophy on crowd shots?

Gaudelli: I think they have a place. They can't be overdone. They can't be gratuitous. I think some will be done in replay. So, say Eli had a long touchdown pass and Peyton Manning reacted demonstratively, you would try to put that in the replay sequence. I know at some point we will talk about Bob Kraft and what an emotional year it has been for him, so he will get some camera time and he is a pretty good reactor as well. But none will take precedence over what is happening on the field. Is Lucas Oil Stadium a good place to broadcast a Super Bowl?

Esocoff: Absolutely. The sight lines are great and they gave a lot of thought to the television aspect. When we first got there, some people thought the game camera positions were a little higher than we'd like, but in live sports it is always better to cheat a little higher to give yourself a little more room for error. The higher you are, the less chance you get of being blocked on the near sideline during a critical play. How do you broadcast for both a casual audience and hard-core football audience?

Collinsworth: I always equate it to a party. If you have a dinner party for six people that you know really well, the conversation will take on a certain tone. If you have 100 people you don't know all that well, that conversation will take on a different tone. We will try to be as inclusive as we can. And let's face it, there will probably be 80 million prospective clients of ours that we would like to invite to our Sunday party come next year.

Michaels: It's a little bit of a dance. You don't want to insult the intelligence of those who watch football all the time. On the other hand, you want to enhance the enjoyment of those who may not know what had just taken place. Is there pressure to do something new on a Super Bowl broadcast?

Gaudelli: There is no pressure. Why? I think we have the correct formula for how to do this and it's not a lot different than the Sunday Night formula. We feel like the telecast we do every Sunday night cuts through other telecasts. I don't think viewers are expecting to see anything new, crazy and different. I think they expect to sit down and watch and listen to an enjoyable broadcast that answers all their questions and keeps them informed. If you try to come out and do something that's never been done before after you've done 19 games this year, I think you could be setting yourself up for some failure.

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