Less is more as CBS uses 16 cameras, indoor blimp shots to zoom in today


Televising the Super Bowl remains very much a huge event, but, in some small way, downsizing has struck. It used to be that networks would crow about taking the Old MacDonald approach to cameras -- here a camera, there a camera, everywhere a camera, camera.

Not this year.

CBS will use 16 to cover today's game in Minneapolis, seven fewer than it had in Super Bowl XX.

"In the past, it had been good for executives to say, 'We had one more camera than last year,' " Bob Stenner, producer of the game telecast, said in a news conference last week.

"Now, it's good to say we have one fewer," director Sandy Grossman said.

Still, 16 is double the amount for a normal, regular-season telecast, and technology certainly has advanced so that broadcasters can do more with less. And though we won't see any Helmet Cam shots from the Metrodome, today's telecast (pre-game at 3:30 p.m., kickoff at 6:18 p.m., channels 11, 9) will offer the added technical doodad of indoor blimp shots.

In order to get overhead shots, particularly on goal-line situations, CBS has put two unmanned blimps with remote-controlled cameras over each end zone. That should give the "after further review" boys something to chew on.

CBS also seems quite proud of the audio quality of its NFL coverage, and promises to try bringing more of the game's sound into our homes. This always presents risks, though. Super Bowls don't come with seven-second delays, and the language of the playing field isn't necessarily the language of the living room.

There is also the risk of a mega-glitch, as NBC learned when its equipment short-circuited at the Federal Express Orange Bowl and it was forced to pick up a Japanese television feed. CBS is prepared, though, executive producer Ted Shaker said.

"We've contacted the Japanese, and they have a camera," he said.

But seriously, folks, Shaker said the network has a generator along in case of an electrical failure, and the commentary from announcers Pat Summerall and John Madden always will be available, no matter what the problem.

Some might think that the Buffalo Bills' no-huddle offense would cause a problem for CBS.

"I don't think we want to get in the way by showing too many replays," Stenner said. "You're dealing with a team, Buffalo, that runs a no-huddle offense, and you don't want to miss too many snaps."

"Even with the no-huddle offense, there's still plenty of time to show a replay," said Grossman, adding that the Bills' hurry-up style forces the network to be more selective on replays.

Unless there is a major mistake in the production, viewers are unlikely to take note of what Stenner, Grossman and crew do, though. As Shaker said, "The viewers don't care who's in the [production] truck, they just want to see the game." The announcers are a different matter.

Summerall and Madden are clearly the network's No. 1 team and the best combination on television. Though Summerall isn't pro football's top play-by-play man -- ABC's Al Michaels holds that distinction -- his dry, nearly reticent style is a perfect complement to Madden's unbuttoned, arm-waving analysis.

"We like each other; I guess that's chemistry," Summerall said.

Summerall and Madden, not the production wizards, will shape viewers' impressions, especially if the game becomes a rout.

"There's an expression, 'having a full bucket.' You get to fill a couple of buckets with announcers like Pat Summerall and John Madden," Stenner said, referring to stockpiled material for the telecast.

"We go into it with a plan just to cover the game," Madden said. "We don't make judgments on whether it's going to be a good game. Of the 100 percent [material] we prepare, we only get to 10 percent."

So Madden won't offer a prediction on today's game. What about Summerall?

"The last guy to make predictions for CBS doesn't work here anymore," he said.

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