Baltimore ready for its close up before 20 million on Sunday Night Football
Top-rated NBC prime-time telecast offers city TV's biggest spotlight
“I think viewers will see some beautiful images of Baltimore Sunday,” NBC Producer Fred Gaudelli says. “Your harbor is one of the most scenic, and I think it has become one of the most recognizable shots in all of America in terms of portraying a city. So, you’ll see a lot of the harbor – from the air, from the shore and on water itself.” (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun / September 30, 2011)
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake championed last month's Baltimore Grand Prix, in part because she said positive TV coverage of the race would "change the way the world sees Baltimore."
As her spokesman, Ryan O'Doherty, explained: "Many television viewers have a negative view of Baltimore based on TV crime dramas, and the Grand Prix provided a great opportunity for Baltimore to shine on national television and internationally to over 100 countries for several hours."
But if you're really serious about Baltimore's TV image, the Grand Prix is small change compared to "NBC Sunday Night Football," which arrives in Baltimore to cover the showdown between the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets. With a weekly audience of more than 20 million viewers a week, it's the biggest stage on television. (That is about 35 times as many viewers as the 591,000 who saw the downtown road race on TV.
Last year, NBC's Sunday night football became the highest-rated prime-time show on television — the first time that distinction has not been held by a sitcom, drama or reality series. And it is headed for that perch again with more than 20 million viewers a week so far this fall — including more young viewers than any other program airing on Sundays.
While the game's always the thing, 31/2 hours of prime time coverage offers the possibility for a lot of glittery and inviting images of the city as the telecast opens, closes and goes to and returns from a sea of seemingly endless commercial breaks. And the use of such images is one of the things NBC Sports pays much attention to in trying to make "Sunday Night Football" into a pop culture event rather than just another game, according to Fred Gaudelli, the show's producer.
"I just think that when you're doing these prime-time games, you can give people a sense of the city and what the mood is in the city," Gaudelli said in an interview last week. "You can give them a little bit of a taste of, 'Hey, what it would be like if I were here tonight or if I wanted to come visit.' That's always a part of what we try to do on 'Sunday Night Football.'"
Since Gaudelli is ultimately the guy who determines the selection of the images, his sense of Baltimore matters most. The interview for this column took place on Wednesday, just as he was about to go into a meeting discussing "what images we want to capture" for the telecast.
"I think Baltimore comes across as just a real friendly kind of place," the 10-time Emmy Award winner says. "That's what sticks out to me. I mean, obviously, you've got a very contemporary downtown in one sense, because of the way the harbor has been developed. But I don't think you lost any of that good old-fashioned charm that you were known, in my opinion, for all these years.
"So, I look at Baltimore as the kind of place that it would be fun to take your family," the father of one concludes. "Aside from all the great sporting venues, it just seems like there's a lot to do. And it seems like a very welcoming place."
Gaudelli, who has produced four Super Bowls, says camera crews are often sent out to film a city during the week before the Sunday game, and that was the case this week with Baltimore. Friday afternoon, NBC Sports was in North Baltimore filming a high school football game between St. Mary's and Boys' Latin School. Friday night, a crew was scheduled to go up in an airplane for aerial shots of downtown buildings lit in pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
"I think viewers will see some beautiful images of Baltimore Sunday," Gaudelli says. "Your harbor is one of the most scenic, and I think it has become one of the most recognizable shots in all of America in terms of portraying a city. So, you'll see a lot of the harbor — from the air, from the shore and on water itself."
There will also be images of the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards and various food venues inside the stadium and out.
"The people who run the [museum] are always proactive in giving me a call and telling what new exhibits they have, so I'm sure we'll doing some of that," Gaudelli says.
"Obviously, food is a always a staple of every city we go to, so we will accommodate that as well," he added, explaining that details of the food coverage had not yet been set.
On TV, the overhead nighttime shots are among the most attractive Baltimore has to offer, and nothing is left to chance in getting them right.
"We have a plane with a camera," Gaudelli says. "In a place like Baltimore, where the city is in close proximity to the stadium, we're usually able to shoot the city while we're shooting the game from the plane. But sometimes, we'll send him up on Friday night to shoot other parts of the city, and that's what we'll do this time with Baltimore. … We want to make sure we have the most advantageous angles and things of that nature."
One of the buildings that will be lit up in pink is City Hall, according to the Tyanna Barre O'Brien Breast Cancer Foundation. It's teaming with Merritt Properties and the Ravens to light the buildings. The foundation will also have 15 breast cancer survivors participating in pre-game activities, and 40,000 pink ribbons will be distributed at the game.
Gaudelli chuckles when told that Baltimore is very insecure about its national image and that some folks here believe out-of-town producers from New York, Hollywood and Washington just don't get us — or are looking down theirnoses at us from behind the lens.
Here's something that might help in that regard, the native New Yorker says: "We take each city's image very seriously, and actually my producer who's in charge of shooting all the images of the cities we go to is from Maryland. His name is Charles Dammeyer — he's from Annapolis. So, we take this one Sunday in Baltimore even more seriously."
Just like the folks at the highest levels here.