Eagles set for unprecedented third straight prime time NFL telecast
A season in which the Eagles have set loads of new records has Chip Kelly's team on the verge of making NFL history again this weekend.
Saturday night's playoff game against the New Orleans Saints will mark the first time ever that a team has been featured by the same network in prime time for three consecutive weeks. That honor goes to the Eagles, as NBC comes back into town after broadcasting the team's games against the Bears and Cowboys.
Fred Gaudelli, NBC's lead NFL producer, will be at the helm as the network beams the Eagles and Saints to fans around the country. This season is his eighth with NBC, and before that he was the lead producer for ABC's Monday Night Football for five years. He also was the lead producer for ESPN's Sunday Night Football broadcasts from 1990 through 2000.
When the NFL made the decision to put the Eagles-Saints game on Saturday night, it didn't take Gaudelli long to get excited for his crew to once again feature one of the NFL's most popular teams. And it will be a big help to NBC that it has storylines on the Eagles ready to go.
"The fact that we get to do the Eagles three weeks in a row, that is definitely an advantage for the production," he said. "There's no question about that."
As the Eagles-Cowboys game was being played, it was reported that Kansas City-Indianapolis would get the 4:30 p.m. Saturday timeslot. So the 8 p.m. prime time game was going to be either Saints-Eagles or 49ers-Packers.
And while fans might think that the broadcasters have some sway over when teams play in the playoffs, Gaudelli said that the NFL made the decision unilaterally.
"You can lobby and politick all you want, but at the end of the day, the NFL makes the decision on what games you get," he said. "They want an attractive matchup in prime time on Saturday night, there's no question."
Gaudelli also said that the NFL made the decision to flex the Eagles-Cowboys game at the end of the regular season into the final Sunday night prime time slot.
After the Eagles beat the Bears in Week 16, everyone knew that there would be two Week 17 games with major NFC playoff implications: Packers at Bears and Eagles at Cowboys.
Either game would have been a big deal. But it's not a coincidence that in both 2012 and 2013, NBC's Week 17 game was an all-NFC East matchup. Though the Packers and Bears are certainly ratings behemoths, the four teams in the NFC East perennially draw some of the NFL's biggest television audiences.
The same logic applies to the scheduling of playoff games. Every matchup will draw lots of attention, but the NFL does what it can to ensure the highest ratings possible.
"It's a balancing act for the NFL," Gaudelli said. "There are more people in front of their television sets on Sunday than there are on Saturday, and that goes for Saturday night as well. You're going to have a bigger audience on Sunday. But we've always been given an attractive matchup in the prime time game."
Part of the allure of playoff football as a television spectacle is how winter weather affects the action. That has made Green Bay's fabled Lambeau Field, home of the "frozen tundra," a marquee attraction. And with temperatures expected to be near zero degrees Fahrenheit at Lambeau this weekend, there was a public perception that the Packers would get the Saturday night game.
But Gaudelli said that cold weather in and of itself isn't what makes for compelling TV.
"I think when people see a snow game like they had here in Philadelphia a few weeks ago, it becomes a very compelling and captivating experience at home," he said. "A game at zero [degrees] doesn't translate the same way like the snow game you had here when the Lions were in town [on December 8]."
If the choice is between snowless Green Bay and snowless Philadelphia – as is expected to be the case here Saturday – Gaudelli said there isn't much of a difference.
"It's certainly tougher on our crew [in Green Bay], but it's going to be 20 in Philadelphia, and I don't know what the wind is going to be," he said. "Cold is cold, and I know 20 doesn't feel like zero, but that's just kind of the way it is this time of year."
Though his crew might be shivering, they'll be working in a venue that Gaudelli described as "one of the state of the art environments" in the NFL.
"We like broadcasting games out of here very much," he said of Lincoln Financial Field. "All the camera positions are good, and there are many of them - which is important, especially when you get to the playoffs. Everything is up to the digital standard, and the Philly crowd is always passionate."
That passion has a flip side sometimes, though. Eagles fans have a reputation of being, to put it one way, not the most polite in the NFL. But Gaudelli isn't fazed by the possibility of an expletive from the crowd slipping into one of his microphones.
"I've been in a lot of stadiums where after a bad call, [a vulgar] chant went up," he said. "There's not much you can do when there's 50,000 people chanting the same thing. You just don't acknowledge it and you move on, because it dies down pretty quickly."
If Philadelphia presents a challenge to Gaudelli and his crew, it comes from the fast pace of Eagles coach Chip Kelly's offense. Gaudelli said Kelly's no-huddle system has forced his team to make some major adjustments to how it presents a broadcast.
"When you do this team, you're never comfortable - you can never take a break," Gaudelli said. "But it's also a great challenge. You can really try to explain and visually show how they do what they do."
Gaudelli has had plenty of experience with no-huddle offenses before, including the Saints' system run by Drew Brees. But the scale of the Eagles' system is unlike any the NBC crew has seen before.
"You don't get to cover any other team quite like this," Gaudelli said. "It takes some getting used to. I'm glad I'm doing them for the third [straight] time, because I feel like I have a better sense of how they operate."
The adjustment isn't just made by Gaudelli and his production crew. Broadcasters Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth have also had to make changes in how they call games.
"One of the things that has made football attractive on TV is the time between every play to diagnose and tell a story," Gaudelli noted. "Those days are slipping away more and more every time you go out to do a telecast. So it's really picking your spots, because you can't do anything that's going to take away from the action."
There's no doubt that on Saturday night, there will be plenty of action at the Linc. It will be Gaudelli's job to bring it all together and produce a broadcast that writes another chapter in NBC's long history of showcasing the NFL's best.