That NBC's World Series coverage trumped ABC's production of the league playoffs is obvious. No debate required. NBC wins in a walkover, though it had less drama to work with. For one thing, ABC's Super Slo Mo was upstaged by NBC's new camera, dubbed the Super Duper Slo Mo in gleeful one-upmanship. For another, there was the virtuoso performance of Vin Scully, the poet, and Joe Garagiola, the pundit. If ever it was proved that two voices are better than three on baseball telecasts, this was the year.
There's a third reason for NBC's victory, and his name is Harry Coyle, the coordinating producer and director of the Series coverage. Coyle is the faceless fellow in the truck who turned a potpourri of pictures from 16 cameras into a baseball mosaic. No bimbos. No mugging fans or closeups of signs saying SAGINAW, MICH. LOVES NBC. No hackneyed cuts to players' wives cheering on cue for the little red light. Only the game with all its luster: Bevacqua performing a home-run pirouette and blowing his two-handed kiss.... Lemon grabbing an over-the-shoulder fly while running full tilt toward the camera.... A euphoric Gibson after plucking the Goose. Lovely, Harry.
Coyle, 62, an oldster in a young man's business, has been the director of all of NBC's Series telecasts since the first one in 1947—the year Al Gionfriddo robbed Joe DiMaggio of a homer. (NBC has done 34 Series; ABC had the other four in the TV era.) Coyle's cameras have captured just about every major moment since, including Willie Mays's catch of Vic Wertz's drive in '54, Yogi Berra's leap into Don Larsen's arms in '56 and Carlton Fisk waving his home run fair in '75. Michael Weisman, NBC Sports executive producer, calls Coyle "the Abner Doubleday of TV baseball," although that isn't really true. Unlike ol' Abner, Harry's no baseball myth.
Throughout the Series, Coyle wedged himself into a control room in a trailer parked outside each stadium. Before him were three dozen monitors, including one for each of the cameras deployed around the field, in the stands and up yonder in the blimp. His job? To play master chef, to create a gourmet main feed. Here Coyle orders the high third-base camera to move in for a closeup of Jack Morris. Almost simultaneously, he arranges a split-screen effect for a potential steal situation. Now he tells the low third-base camera to swing into the dugout for a reaction shot of Sparky Anderson, but not until he calls up a graphic that shows how often Carmelo Martinez has been striking out. Through it all, Scully and Garagiola talk, and Coyle listens.
October 21, 1984
Now a lot of directors can give orders and listen to the booth at the same time. Not every director, however, obeys Harry's list of don'ts. One reason NBC's production was rewarding was that you didn't see any departures from the Harry Coyle Don't Book.
Don't cut to a tight shot of the runner on a play at the plate. Real fans want to see plays, not portraits, so show them a wide shot of the runner racing the ball, not just a closeup of the runner's glorious upper torso.
Don't chop up a double play by clipping from a tight shot of the putout at second to another tight shot of the putout at first. Keep the cameras on the flight of the ball, not on the runners. Otherwise, no one will see an overthrow except the people in the stands.
Don't sacrifice action elsewhere just to document the fact that a runner is crossing the plate. Too many directors have a Pavlovian reaction when someone touches the plate. Think about it. How often have you seen the guy scoring glance across the field at the play the cameras have missed?
Coyle, a shot-and-a-beer kind of guy and the only son of an oil-truck driver, was a B-24 pilot who completed 35 combat missions over Germany in World War II. "I've always felt there's a gap between the people who do television and people who watch it," he says. "I've made it a practice occasionally to go into a bar while a game is on and just sit back and watch the people, listen to what they like and don't like." In 1955 Coyle invented the now-routine centerfield camera shot after seeing a softball balls-and-strikes umpire working behind the pitcher.
But his legacy, and the main reason for his consistency, is what is known as Harry's Bible—a 10-page manual that lists exact procedure for each cameraman in every basic game situation. The manual helps keep missed shots to a minimum. Coyle's "boys," some of whom are pushing 50, are supposed to memorize which players they're responsible for when there are runners on first and third, say, and the batter hits a rocket toward second. It's like bombing runs. Follow procedure, let Harry command and everybody will survive.
Coyle's the master. During the Series he used the Super Duper so well you really could see the stitches on Morris's split-fingered fastball (on a scale of one to 10, ABC's stitches rated a minus five). Nobody else has his timing, his sense of where the ball is going and his willingness to give the game breathing room.